Evil and non-evil Facebook buttons

Many websites now include Facebook buttons and widgets of various sorts. As a user, it is worth knowing that if you are logged into Facebook, many of those buttons and widgets can be used by Facebook to track your web use and  link it to your real identity. 

This site has a Facebook button, as well, but it is a graphic that loads from my own server. It does not allow Facebook to add to their trove of data.

That said, Google has its own massive data pile, which this site contributes to in obvious ways like content being indexed and less obvious ways like Google Analytics visitor tracking.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

14 thoughts on “Evil and non-evil Facebook buttons”

  1. Internet purists lament that the new service spells the end of anonymity. That is a big minus if you are trying to organise protests on social-networking sites, which many in the Middle East have done. Or it can lead to self-censorship. Even TechCrunch has its doubts: most comments are now of the overly positive sort. Others say that by using the comment service, websites in practice hand over their most valuable asset: the community of users.

    The move also raises fears. Facebook has already accumulated a remarkable amount of data—and not just about its users’ online, but their real-world activities: messages, pictures, calendars, likes and dislikes, even shopping. Now it is adding their opinions too. The result is a giant step towards Facebook becoming, in effect, the repository of identity for much of the internet. If governments did that, the result would be outrage. Is the same clout exercised by a private firm any less worrying? The Onion, a satirical website, recently called Facebook a “massive online surveillance program run by the CIA” and Mr Zuckerberg a secret agent with the code name “the Overlord”. LOL? Perhaps not.

  2. ShareMeNot is a Firefox add-on for preventing tracking from third-party buttons (like the Facebook “Like” button or the Google “+1” button) until the user actually chooses to interact with them. That is, ShareMeNot doesn’t disable/remove these buttons completely. Rather, it allows them to render on the page, but prevents the cookies from being sent until the user actually clicks on them, at which point ShareMeNot releases the cookies and the user gets the desired behavior (i.e., they can Like or +1 the page).

  3. According to Australian technologist Nik Cubrilovic: ‘Logging out of Facebook is not enough.’ He added, Even after you are logged out, Facebook is able to track your browser’s page every time you visit a website. He wrote in his blog: ‘With my browser logged out of Facebook, whenever I visit any page with a Facebook like button, or share button, or any other widget, the information, including my account ID, is still being sent to Facebook.’ After explaining the cookies behavior he also suggested a way to fix the tracking problem: ‘The only solution to Facebook not knowing who you are is to delete all Facebook cookies.

  4. Embedded Twitter widgets are ‘evil’ too, in the sense that they allow Twitter to track all the visitors to websites that employ them.

  5. The web developer toolbar for Firefox is useful for identifying ways through which websites can track you – cookies, Javascript, etc.

  6. One of our favorite privacy-supporting features in the social API is the recommend button. Many websites add buttons that let you share content with your friends on social networks. When a site does this, those social networks can track which of their users visit those web pages. If we add this functionality in Firefox instead, you can still interact with your social network and share pages, but without the opportunity for tracking by all those social networks. It also allows you to share pages even if that page doesn’t include social sharing widgets. The recommend button in the URL bar — for Facebook, it’s a Like button — only sends the page’s URL to your social network when you click on it.

  7. Facebook is in such an exalted position because no other company, with the exception of Google, has as many users, knows as much about their behaviour online and can target them as effectively. In addition to all the personal and geographical information, interests, social connections and photos users share, the social network is able to see where else they go online. Anywhere with a “like” symbol feeds back information, as do sites that allow people to log on with their Facebook credentials.

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