Mark Zuckerberg Dodges Senate Question on Facebook Tracking Users Across the Web

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pauses while testifying before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
AP /Andrew Harnik

While testifying before the Senate, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dodged a question about Facebook tracking users activity even after they leave the website.

While testifying before the Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees in Washington today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to confirm that Facebook continues to track users activity even after they’ve left the Facebook website. Facebook has admitted that they do this on their own company website while Breitbart News has reported on this fact extensively. However, when asked directly by Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) if Facebook tracked users after they left the site, Mark Zuckerberg failed to give a straight answer.

“There have been reports that Facebook can track users internet browsing activity even after that user has logged off of the Facebook platform. Can you confirm whether or not this is true?” asked Senator Wicker. Mark Zuckerberg replied; “Senator, I want to make sure I get this accurate so it would probably be better to have my team follow up afterward.” Senator Wicker asked; “so you don’t know?” to which Zuckerberg replied; “I know that people use cookies on the internet and that you can probably correlate activity between sessions, we do that for a number of reasons including security and including measuring ads to make sure that the ad experiences are most effective which of course people can opt-out of. But I want to make sure I’m precise in my answer so we’ll probably follow up with you after.”

Senator Wicker replied; “when you get back to me sir, would you also let us know how Facebook discloses to its users that engaging in this type of tracking gives us that result?” Zuckerberg simply replied “yes.”

What makes Zuckerberg’s statement so odd is that Facebook has admitted to tracking users outside of their site for some time now. Facebook has used “like” buttons embedded on websites to track users browsing habits, this is how they develop targeted advertising profiles for users. When a Facebook user visits a website that features a Facebook “like” button, information is sent back to Facebook servers detailing where the user found the like button. A case brought against Facebook in July of 2017 was dismissed by Judge Edward Davila, who stated that “The fact that a user’s web browser automatically sends the same information to both parties does not establish that one party intercepted the user’s communication with the other.”

Facebook also accesses users real-world location via the Facebook app to track them and better serve ads to them by gaining a general idea of the user’s movement and purchasing habits. If a user spends a long amount of time in a specific shop, they may see more ads on Facebook reminding them to shop there again. This can be prevented by denying the Facebook app access to location data.

Facebook’s own website confirms their tracking of users data even outside of Facebook:

Imagine seeing an ad for a product on your mobile phone while in line at the bank. Do you immediately make a purchase on your phone? Probably not. But perhaps you go back to your office later that day and buy on your desktop computer. Such cross-device conversions are becoming increasingly common as people move between their phones, tablets and desktop computers to interact with businesses.

Facebook already offers targeting, delivery and conversion measurement across devices. With the new cross-device report, advertisers are now able to view the devices on which people see ads and the devices on which conversions subsequently occur. For instance, a marketer can view the number of customers that clicked an ad on an iPhone but then later converted on desktop, or the number of people that saw an ad on desktop but then converted on an Android tablet.

So the question remains, why was Mark Zuckerberg unable to simply tell Senator Wicker; “Yes, we track user data outside of Facebook.” 

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan_ or email him at lnolan@breitbart.com

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