Commentary

Facebook Reveals More Extensive Tracking

Courtesy of Congress, Facebook’s aggressive tracking practices are back in the headlines, this week.

That’s thanks to lawmakers releasing Facebook’s response to thousands of questions, which they first asked the tech titan in April.

While the information that Facebook provides shouldn’t come as a surprise to advertising experts, it will likely raise eyebrows among members of the Senate and House Committees, and their constituents.

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“We collect information from and about the computers, phones, connected TVs and other web-connected devices our users use that integrate with our products, and we combine this information across a user’s different devices,” Facebook said in response to one question.

Said “information” includes users’ operating systems, hardware and software versions, battery level, signal strength, available storage space, browser type, app and file names and types, and plugins.

The company also tracks operations and behaviors performed on users’ devices, including their mouse movements and the positioning of browser windows -- specifically whether windows are “foregrounded or backgrounded.”

Facebook also tracks unique identifiers, including device IDs; those from games, apps or accounts people use; Family Device IDs; and other identifiers unique to Facebook products associated with the same device or account.

The social giant also tracks Bluetooth signals, information about nearby Wi-Fi access points, beacons, and cell towers, as well as data from device settings. That includes information users let Facebook receive through device settings they turn on, such as access to their GPS location, camera, or photos.

As Facebook sees it, all this tracking is necessary to offer users the personalized -- and free -- experiences they have come to expect.

“Our core service involves personalizing all content, features and recommendations that people see on Facebook services,” the company said in response to one question from Congress. “No two people have the same experience on Facebook or Instagram, and they come to our services because they expect everything they see to be relevant to them.”

Whether consumers and lawmakers buy this argument remains to be seen, while new revelations about Facebook’s lax data-sharing policy don't help.

Indeed, it recently  came to light that Facebook was providing phone makers with access to massive amounts of user data.

The news was not lost on lawmakers like Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial, and Antitrust Law

"Sure looks like [Facebook CEO Mark] Zuckerberg lied to Congress about whether users have ‘complete control’ over who sees our data on Facebook,” Cicilline tweeted at the time. “This needs to be investigated, and the people responsible need to be held accountable.”

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