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    USA Today: Facebook tracking is under scrutiny

    USA Today reports on the issue of privacy with social-networking site Facebook and its tracking of users’ online activities:

    Far more quietly, another debate is brewing over a different side of online privacy: what Facebook is learning about those who visit its website.

    Facebook officials are now acknowledging that the social media giant has been able to create a running log of the web pages that each of its 800 million or so members has visited during the previous 90 days. Facebook also keeps close track of where millions more non-members of the social network go on the Web, after they visit a Facebook web page for any reason.

    To do this, the company relies on tracking cookie technologies similar to the controversial systems used by Google, Adobe, Microsoft, Yahoo and others in the online advertising industry, says Arturo Bejar, Facebook’s engineering director.

    Facebook’s efforts to track the browsing habits of visitors to its site have made the company a player in the “Do Not Track” debate, which focuses on whether consumers should be able to prevent websites from tracking the consumers’ online activity. […]

    But privacy advocates worry about how else the information might be used, and whether it might be sold to third parties. […]

    If privacy advocates get their way, consumers soon could be empowered to stop or limit tech companies and ad networks from tracking them wherever they go online. But the online advertising industry has dug in its heels, trying to retain the current self-regulatory system. […]

    Rather than appease its critics, Facebook’s public explanations of how it tracks and how it uses tracking data have touched off a barrage of questions from technologists, privacy advocates, regulators and lawmakers around the world.

    “Facebook could be tracking users without knowledge or permission, which could be an unfair or deceptive business practice,” says Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., co-sponsor with Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, of a bill aimed at limiting online tracking of children.

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