Published by LawTechie - November 22, 2011 - LawTechie

Last week’s USA Today article which described Facebook’s tenancy to track users after they have logged off of the social media site has resulted in a statement by Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, calling for a hearing to have Facebook explain itself. (Recall the class-action lawsuits I blogged about back in October which hit Facebook for the social media giant’s tendency to play fast and loose with user’s privacy rights.)

Here is what Senator Rockefellar had to say:

The USA Today story is disturbing. No company should track customers without their knowledge or consent, especially a company with 800 million users and a trove of unique personal data on its users. If Facebook or any other company is falsely leading people to believe that they can log out of the site and not be tracked, that is alarming. I take a hard line on protecting consumer privacy and intend to have a hearing on this subject where we will invite Facebook and others to explain how they are using personal information.

Facebook’s response:

For the past several weeks, Zuckerberg and other Facebook officials have sought to distinguish how Facebook and others use tracking data. Facebook uses such data only to boost security and improve how “Like” buttons and similar Facebook plug-ins perform, Bejar told USA TODAY. Plug-ins are the ubiquitous web applications that enable you to tap into Facebook services from millions of third-party web pages.

Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes says the company has “no plans to change how we use this data.” He also says the company’s intentions “stand in stark contrast to the many ad networks and data brokers that deliberately and, in many cases, surreptitiously track people to create profiles of their behavior, sell that content to the highest bidder, or use that content to target ads.”

Of course Facebook’s response to the privacy concerns its online tracking raises may not settle the matter for privacy advocates. Obviously, the question for many users is not how their online activities are being used, but whether they want any company (even a company as benevolent as Facebook) to have access to such information.

Moreover, we are likely to see an increase of data breach lawsuits even against companies who do not do anything “bad” with such user data in the event that such data is hacked or lost to comparatively evil companies who have every intention of using the data for nuisance marketing.

LawTechie is a blog focusing on trends in tech and digital media. Areas covered include intellectual property, cyberlaw, venture capital, transactions and litigation as they relate to the emerging sectors. The blog is edited by the firm's partner Tim Bukher with contributions from the firm's experts in their respective areas of law.

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