Two congressmen have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate if Facebook is collecting information from users when they are logged out of their profiles.
The information is said to be collected from "cookies," or files placed on the user's computer,.to personalize a user's experience, wrote Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) in a letter to FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. Both Markey and Barton are co-chairs of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus. From the letter:
We believe that tracking user behavior without their consent or knowledge raises serious privacy concerns. When users log out of Facebook, they are under the expectation that Facebook is no longer monitoring their activities. We believe this impression should be the reality. Facebook users should not be tracked without their permission.
Markey and Barton's concern came from an Australian blogger who wrote about the alleged tracking cookies on Sunday.
"Like every site on the Internet that personalizes content and tries to provide a secure experience for users, we place cookies on the computer of the user," Facebook engineer W. Gregg Stefancik wrote in a comment to the Los Angeles Times tech blog. "Three of these cookies on some users' computers included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook. However, we did not store these identifiers for logged out users. Therefore, we could not have used this information for tracking or any other purpose. In addition, we fixed the cookies so that they won't include unique information in the future when people log out."
When Facebook launched its comments plugin earlier this year, nearly every article you read suddenly had your Facebook profile already loaded and ready for your comment. We think that's when people should have gotten wise to the fact that Facebook knows a lot about them. Whether or not they collect the information for nefarious purposes is up for debate.