Facebook Admits to Tracking Non-Users Across the Web

Mark Zuckerberg
Getty/Saul Loeb

Facebook has admitted to tracking the personal details of people without accounts across the web using “Like” buttons and other analytics tools.

Social media giant Facebook recently admitted that they track users outside of the platform, even those that don’t have accounts. In a post to the Facebook Newsroom that responded to many of the questions that the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was unable to answer before Congress, Product Management Director David Baser outlined how Facebook gathers information from users on the internet.

When does Facebook get data about people from other websites and apps?
Many websites and apps use Facebook services to make their content and ads more engaging and relevant. These services include:

  • Social plugins, such as our Like and Share buttons, which make other sites more social and help you share content on Facebook;
  • Facebook Login, which lets you use your Facebook account to log into another website or app;
  • Facebook Analytics, which helps websites and apps better understand how people use their services; and
  • Facebook ads and measurement tools, which enable websites and apps to show ads from Facebook advertisers, to run their own ads on Facebook or elsewhere, and to understand the effectiveness of their ads.

When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don’t know who is using Facebook.

Breitbart News has highlighted the most important element in that last paragraph. Facebook has admitted that it uses “Like” buttons on websites to track users in the past, in a case from July of 2017, plaintiffs claimed that through the use of “like” buttons, which appear on many websites across the internet, Facebook was tracking their user’s browsing habits and building detailed reports, an act which the plaintiffs argued violated federal and state privacy and wiretapping laws.

The case was dismissed by US District Judge Edward Davila of San Jose, California who stated that the plaintiffs in the case had not proven that they had a reasonable expectation of privacy or had suffered any realistic economic harm or loss due to Facebook’s actions. Davila said that the plaintiffs failed to prove that Facebook had in fact spied on them and had failed to take necessary precautions to protect their web browsing habits, such as the Digital Advertising Alliance’s opt-out tool.

When Facebook users, and non-users, visit websites featuring “Like” buttons, a large amount of their browsing data is scraped and sent to the company. Baser outlined how much information the organization gathers in his recent Newsroom posts:

When you visit a website, your browser (for example Chrome, Safari or Firefox) sends a request to the site’s server. The browser shares your IP address so the website knows where on the internet to send the site content. The website also gets information about the browser and operating system (for example Android or Windows) you’re using because not all browsers and devices support the same features. It also gets cookies, which are identifiers that websites use to know if you’ve visited before. This can help with things like saving items in your shopping cart.

While Facebook users have accepted that their data is being collected by the social media firm, many internet users choose not to join Facebook over fears of privacy issues. Now, it seems that even those that wish to opt-out of social media are still having their data harvested by the tech firms. Given that “Like” buttons are prevalent across most sites on the internet and user data is extremely valuable to Facebook, it’s unlikely that this practice will stop anytime soon.

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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