Facebook Fixes Cookie Issues as Lawmakers Urge FTC Privacy Probe

facebook-cookiesIt was recently discovered that some Facebook cookies were left in-tact after logout. While the issue has since been resolved, select data is still tracked and recent Facebook patent information indicates that all logged-out tracking may be intentional.

As a result, U.S. Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) are pushing for the FTC to investigate Facebook, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The cookie problems were discovered by “Australian-born serial entrepreneur, writer, and hacker” Nik Cubrilovic. Cubrilovic examined all of the Facebook cookies and reported the details of which cookies remained after a given user logs off. Of greatest note is the a_user cookie, which works as a personal identifier for the user that can afterward be examined by Facebook or third-party sites.

Cubrilovic worked with a Facebook engineer and company PR to resolve the issue, and the a_user – as well as the a_xs cookie, which Facebook states was used to prevent cross-site request forgery – are now deleted on logout. Several cookies do remain, however.

Facebook reports that the remaining cookies exclude personal identifiers and are completely benign in nature; they serve functions such as generating timestamps, contributing to Facebook’s page reporting, and helping to keep public computers secure. Cubrilovic notes, however, that, “As a user, you have to take Facebook at their word that the purpose of these cookies is only for what is being described.”

In this case, there’s an extra reason to be skeptical of Facebook’s statements. As reported by Bill Slawski, a patent filed by Facebook in February of this year described a technology that “may access a cookie on the user’s computer, where the cookie is associated with the social network” and “the third party website and the social network system can communicate about the user without sharing any of the user’s personal information and without requiring the user to log into the social network system.”

“In an effort to protect consumers, we would like to know about any actions the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken or plans to take to investigate this practice by Facebook,” wrote Markey and Barton. “We believe that an investigation of Facebook tracking its users even after they log out falls within the FTC’s mandate as stipulated in Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act with respect to protecting Americans from ‘unfair and deceptive acts or practices.'”

Privacy concerns were also front and center last week following Facebook’s f8 conference, when the introduction of the Timeline and “frictionless” sharing of, well, everything you’re doing. All the time. In typical Facebook opt-out style.

Facebook isn’t the only one facing privacy and tracking issues, either. Marketers should give note to a couple other stories, including The Wall Street Journal’s recently revised privacy policy (which permits WSJ to track personally identifiable behavior without user consent) and the FTC probe into undeletable “supercookies” used by Hulu and MSN.com.

UPDATE: The Electronic Privacy Information Center is also calling for a Facebook FTC investigation, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Image Credit: i am baker

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