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article imageOp-Ed: Facebook tracking cookies track you after you log off- study

By Paul Wallis     Sep 26, 2011 in Internet
Sydney - Facebook keeps getting in to the news for all the wrong reasons. The latest is a study of Facebook cookies, which indicates that the cookies and Facebook buttons on websites can still track you- after you log off, wherever you are.
The Sydney Morning Herald:
But in alarming new revelations, Wollongong-based Nik Cubrilovic conducted tests, which revealed that when you log out of Facebook, rather than deleting its tracking cookies, the site merely modifies them, maintaining account information and other unique tokens that can be used to identify you.
It’s a matter of opinion exactly how shocked people who can click on any of the millions of Facebook buttons and links for access to FB are likely to be by this revelation, but there is an issue- tracking cookies. Tracking cookies are classified by security firms as low threat nuisances, and are fixable manually or if you have the right security software, which simply deletes them.
Tracking cookies are commonly used by companies to follow around site users, and if they’re not spectacularly successful as sales vehicles, I can say from experience that I prefer to see ads from these companies than the lousy dating sites and other dreck they replace. The problem is that Facebook already has privacy issues, not least of which is the face identification software recently installed, which has some real security implications for users, particularly those who don’t want to be that easy to find.
Facebook isn’t the only entity which could tap into the cookies, for one thing. It’s not hard to envision very basic malware that would be able to make use of them for surreptitious snooping and possible major invasions of privacy and attacks, for example identifying banking and online shopping sites and knowing where to look for money, SSL or no SSL system. That would make the Facebook cookies a lot more of a risk than they might seem.
In fairness the Facebook cookies are also useful, particularly if you’re trying to get on to FB or access information from it. The suggested solution, “delete all FB cookies”, could become a pretty damn tedious process, logging in and out, etc. Another point to be made, as many times before, is that Facebook isn’t a law enforcement agency- They’re a business. If they use cookies on their website for the purpose of their business, it’d be a pretty tough call to say they shouldn’t be allowed to do that.
If someone suffered damage as a result of a clearly identified use of Facebook cookies, there’d be a case to answer and some definitions of what’s allowable and what’s a problem would have to be made. Scaring people with a possibility and not backing it up with demonstrable case scenarios doesn’t so much help as raise awareness of a possibility without creating a working fix. I suggest the critics go back to the drawing board and clearly define the real risks.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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