Facebook is again in the sights of lawmakers and federal investigators, with two U.S. representatives calling for a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) probe into the social networking giant's tracking policies.
In a Sept. 28 letter to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Representatives Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) voiced their concern, on behalf of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, that Facebook collects information about its users even after they log out of the site.
The lawmakers' call to action stems from the work of independent researcher and self-proclaimed hacker Nik Cubrilovic, who earlier this week discovered that some of Facebook's cookies, including those that transmit users' Web browsing activities back to Faceboo k from any website that includes a "like," "share" or "recommend" button, were still active even after the user had logged out of Facebook. Markey and Barton estimated in their letter that there are 950,000 such websites.
Facebook told Cubrilovic and media outlets that it was going to make sure those cookies "died" after the user logged out. However, one Facebook representative told the Wall Street Journal that the fix would "take a while," which only raised Markey and Barton's ire.
"Facebook should consider this problem a top priority and should allocate the resources necessary to safeguard consumers in an expedited fashion," their letter to the FTC said.
"We believe that tracking user behavior without their consent or knowledge raises serious privacy concerns," they added. "When users log out of Facebook, they are under the expectation that Facebook is no longer monitoring their activities. We believe this impression should be the reality. Facebook users should not be tracked without their permission."
Facebook released a statement yesterday (Sept. 29) and said although some of the cookies in question "inadvertently included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook," the company did not store them or use them "for tracking or any other purpose," according to MSNBC.
Markey and Barton's call for the FTC to look into Facebook's tracking policy is not the only challenge the company is facing. Computerworld reported that an Austrian-based group called Europe v Facebook has filed 22 official complaints with Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner alleging that Facebook does not comply with European privacy laws governing how companies manage personal data. (Facebook's European operations are based in Ireland.)
Among the 22 complaints are accusations that Facebook keeps "pokes" even after the user removes them; that Facebook stores messages, including chat logs, after the users deletes them; and that Facebook employs an "opt-out" system for privacy settings instead of an "opt-in" as required by European law.
The Data Protection Commissioner will investigate the complaints as well as audit Facebook beginning next month, Computerworld wrote.