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No Privacy! Social Networks Can Track Your Surfing Habits

Online social networks have become part of our daily life.
Samyak Lalit | September 27, 2011 (Last update: July 31, 2017)

Samyak Lalit is an Indian author and disability rights activist. He is the principal author and founder of projects like TechWelkin, WeCapable, Viklangta, Kavita Kosh among many others.

Lately, an Australian entrepreneur and hacker Nik Cubrilovi claimed that Facebook can and does track your surfing habits (i.e. which websites you visit) even if you have logged out of Facebook!

I was not at all surprised when, this morning, a friend of mine informed me about this discovery by Nik Cubrilovi. Even without doing any experiments, I guess, one can be certain in assuming that Facebook and other social networks do indeed track its users by the means of cookies (little files setup on your computer). Once logged out of Facebook you feel as though Facebook can no longer see you. But that’s not the complete truth.

As I mentioned in my yesterday’s article, the “Like” button played a big role in the success of Facebook. At present millions of websites use this tiny button for allowing people to share content via Facebook.

Online social networks have become part of our daily life.

Like button is rendered on a webpage through a script provided by Facebook. Now because Facebook provides the script –it is not impossible for them to record the webpage you have visited. But they can record only the pages where Like button is installed.

When you log into Facebook, they setup cookies on your computer to identify you. After doing your routine “Facebooking” when you log out –these cookies are left behind on your computer as it is (until you manually delete them or they get automatically expired).

After logging out, when you visit a webpage where Like button is installed –the Like button script can read cookies in your computer and from that information Facebook can identify you as a Facebook user. This is how they can infer “so and so person visited so and so page on Internet.”

However, all this is theory. Whether Facebook really does this tracking or not –only Facebook can tell. Of course the Facebook officials promptly denied allegations made by Nik.

Read: Simplifying your Facebook Life

We are living in a world where we are getting more and more dependent on web services with each passing day. In such a life, it’s hard to believe that your privacy is totally protected when you are on Internet. There has been and will always be a series of such “revelations” by hackers and denials by corporate. But at the end of the day it is corporate who hold the aces. It is their code, so they feel all-powerful. They don’t charge us for services, so they feel they are “justified” in obtaining private data.

All social networks track their users’ online movements. Facebook is not the only culprit. They track your surfing habits in order to deliver you the content (read ads) that you are most likely to be interested in.

Let’s now talk about the ways which can beat this cookies business of social networks. You can adopt any of the following approaches to solve the above mentioned problem:

  1. Use a dedicated browser for social networks. First delete all the cookies from all the browsers. Then, for example, use Google Chrome for accessing Facebook, Google+, Orkut, Twitter, MySpace etc. For surfing rest of the web, use another browser (e.g. Firefox).
  2. Use private browsing features when you access the social networks. In private browsing mode then browsers don’t allow website’s to setup cookies on your computer
    1. Google Chrome has “Incognito” mode for private browsing.
    2. Firefox plainly calls it “Private browsing”
    3. Internet Explorer calls this feature “InPrivate Browsing” (found under Safety menu)
  3. Firefox allows you to install plug-ins that can stop such tracking. For example:
    1. Priv3 plug-in from Berkley University and Rutgers University
    2. Ghostery
    3. AdBlock Plus

We can see light at the end of tunnel. Slowly, under pressure, online social network giant are agreeing to honor a user’s choice of Do Not Track option. Recently, Twitter has said that it will no longer track its users. Such initiatives by websites are a welcome move.

What do you think about this issue of tracking? Please share your thoughts on the matter! Thank you for reading.


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