Rockefeller To Question Facebook About 'Alarming' Privacy Report

by , Nov 16, 2011, 5:09 PM
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Sen. Jay Rockefeller said today he intended to summon Facebook to a hearing to answer questions about its ability to track users as they surf the Web.

“No company should track customers without their knowledge or consent, especially a company with 800 million users and a trove of unique personal data on its users,” the Senate Commerce Committee said in a statement. “If Facebook or any other company is falsely leading people to believe that they can log out of the site and not be tracked, that is alarming,” the Democrat from West Virginia continued.

He added that he intends to hold a hearing and invite Facebook and other tech companies to testify about how they use people's “personal information.”

Rockefeller's statement was prompted by a front-page article in USA Today that examined Facebook's ability to track people even after they had logged out. The paper summarized recent concerns about Facebook's ability to track people when they visit sites with the “like” button or other social plug-ins.

Those concerns date to at least September, when Australian computer expert Nic Cubrilovic published a report detailing how Facebook could identify users whenever they visited sites with the "like" button or other social widgets -- regardless of whether the users were logged in. The social networking service quickly rolled out a fix, while downplaying Cubrilovic's findings as a coding bug.

But questions persisted, especially after Michael Arrington posted that Facebook recently applied to patent a method of tracking users throughout the Web and serving them tailored ads.

A Facebook spokesperson responded that “technology companies patent lots of ideas.”

He added, “Some of these ideas become products or features and some don’t. As a result, current functionality and future business plans shouldn’t be inferred from our patent applications.”

The report nonetheless drew questions by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), who co-chair a bipartisan caucus in privacy. They asked Facebook to respond to detailed questions by Dec. 1.

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