Facebook’s data collection practices under even more scrutiny

April 23, 2018 by Aimee

Many businesses and online marketers have been using Facebook quite successfully to market their products and services through Facebook posts and target advertising. However, with the revelation that the data of millions of users was handed over to Cambridge Analytica – a political consultancy group that managed US President Donald Trump’s successful bid to the White House in 2016 – data privacy has once again come to the forefront.

Now Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has acknowledged that the company tracks people irrespective of whether they have an account with Facebook, and this has deepened the issue surrounding data privacy.

During a Congressional hearing, Zuckerberg said that Facebook collects data of even those who do not have an account with the social media networking site. He said that this was done for security reasons.

Lawmakers and privacy supporters protested this practice by Facebook. Many said that Facebook had to come up with a system that allowed people without an account to find out the details that the social media networking site had about them.

US Representative Ben Lujan asked Mark Zuckerberg to fix this problem during the hearing. It is unsure how this disclosure will affect Facebook’s ability to offer advertisers targeted ads. In fact, Zuckerberg did not respond to Representative Lujan, and two days after the statement, Facebook announced that it had no plans to build a tool to let non-users know the extent of data the company holds on them.

Mark Zuckerberg has his share of critics, who have said that he has not disclosed sufficient details about how much data Facebook collects and to what extent it is used.

Chris Calabrese, Vice President for Policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), an advocacy group based in Washington, pointed out that it was unclear what the social media site was doing with the vast volume of data.

Facebook attains data of people who do not have an account with the site when they upload email IDs of their friends, who do have a presence on Facebook. It also gets information via cookies, which are stored on a person’s browser to track their internet usage. Usually, this is done to send targeted ads to people.

In a statement, Facebook expressed that the kind of data collection it carried out was in alignment with the way the internet works. When questioned whether people could opt out of giving Facebook access to their data, the company stated people had the option of deleting cookies from their browser and device settings.

Cookies are installed on users’ browsers when they visit websites that have Facebook’s Like and Share buttons. This happens even if the person does not click on the buttons. According to Facebook, the data is used to create analytics reports – not for targeted advertisements.

In the UK and Europe, Facebook will meet its first regulatory challenge when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect. The new regulation requires companies that collect data to get consent from the public and let them know what their data will be used for.

Woodrow Hartzog, Professor of Law and Computer Science at Northeastern University, said that Facebook would have to find ways to give non-users the right notice. However, Facebook has said in a statement that it complies with applicable laws, including GDPR.