Online privacy and security continue to be a top priority for many internet users, but often, while you’re busy monitoring your online purchases and diligently changing your passwords, websites are collecting information about you without you even realizing it. I can’t tell you the number of times I have looked for a product on Amazon or eBay only to find that in the following days the banner ads for my email account seem to target me with the exact products I just researched.
I do not have the illusion that the internet is a private place.
That being said, I was surprised to read in the Wall Street Journal recently that Facebook and Twitter collect data about your browsing habits whenever you are logged into the website; even if you are not actively using the site at that moment, if you are logged on, you’re being watched.
The sites track your visits to pages that have Facebook “Like” buttons and Twitter “Tweet” buttons. I can understand that if you click on the “Tweet This” button on a website that a process for tracking your visit begins. The site must access your Twitter account, you must approve the access, a generic tweet is typically posted and you can chose to edit or tweet the post “as-is.” Twitter can track that information and that makes perfect sense to me.
The strange part of the process, as I learned from the WSJ article, is that even if you chose not to click on the Tweet or Like buttons on a given web page, Facebook and Twitter can still track your visit to that website.
“They could link users’ browsing habits to their social-networking profile which often contains their name.”
The key point of the article is that Facebook and Twitter can only track you while you are logged in to their sites. The study found that even if you shut down your PC or close your internet browser but fail to log out of Facebook or Twitter, those sites can still track your browsing habits the next time your browser is used. But, if you’re not logged into Facebook, then they can not track your browsing habits.
As of right now, most of the browsing history collected is only used for advertising purposes. There is a huge appeal for advertisers to collect such data. Imagine the power your advertising could have if you are targeting people whose browsing and purchasing habits you know, as opposed to guessing on people might not be interested in your product. Facebook states that they do not use the links in their websites for tracking and they are intended for sharing with your friends as opposed to targeting your wallet. With all of the money Facebook makes off of their growing advertising platform, I can’t imagine they want a privacy storm heading their way.
Will I stop using Facebook or Twitter – no. However, I will now make sure that I log out when I am not using the social networking sites, so I can lessen the chance that they can track my progress as I browse the internet.