Facebook tracking each and every visitor’s browsing activities, new research says

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Facebook is tracking all visitors to its social networking site, even those who don’t have a Facebook account or those who have explicitly chosen to opt out of tracking, a study commissioned by the Belgian Privacy Commission (BPC) has revealed.

The research has found that the social networking giant is tracking web movements of all the visitors to its site without their consent, whether or not they are logged in to Facebook or are not the registered users of the site or have opted out, through use of social plugins, primarily the ‘Like’ button.

Under the EU law, websites are required to seek prior consent from the visitor before placing a cookie or tracking. As per the research report, Facebook places tracking cookies on users’ computers if they visit any page on the facebook.com domain, including fan pages or other pages that do not require a Facebook account to visit. As a result when a user visits a third-party site that carries one of Facebook’s social plug-ins, it detects and sends the tracking cookies back to Facebook.

The study reveals that the tracking cookies are used even if the user does not interact with the Like button, Facebook Login or other extensions of the social media site.

The research has been carried out by members of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Law and ICT/Centre for Intellectual Property Rights (ICRI/CIR) of KU Leuven, the department of Studies on Media, Information and Telecommunication (SMIT) of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the department of Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography (COSIC) of KU Leuven.

Denying the allegations, a Facebook spokesperson said “This report contains factual inaccuracies. The authors have never contacted us, nor sought to clarify any assumptions upon which their report is based. Neither did they invite our comment on the report before making it public.”

“We have explained in detail the inaccuracies in the earlier draft report (after it was published) directly to the Belgian DPA, who we understand commissioned it, and have offered to meet with them to explain why it is incorrect, but they have declined to meet or engage with us. However, we remain willing to engage with them and hope they will be prepared to update their work in due course.”