Facebook has admitted that it is tracking non-users, often referred to as ‘shadow profiles’, but denies claims it breaches EU privacy law.
A report published last week by Belgian academics alleged that Facebook had been secretly installing tracking cookies on users’ computers, even when they had deleted their account and asked not to be followed.
Facebook this week responded that such cookies may have been placed in “a few instances”, but that the team is addressing those “inadvertent instances”.
Facebook rejected outright the rest of the claims made in the report. Except for a bug that tracked all users who visited certain Facebook pages, Facebook doesn’t practice tracking nonusers, the company said in response to the criticism.
The academics had claimed that Facebook continued tracking people when they opted out of ads, but the site said it only kept information like “web impressions” — the fact that certain pages have been visited — and the authors of the report had misleadingly called that “tracking”.
The social network hit back in a blog post, saying that the report “gets it wrong multiple times in asserting how Facebook uses information”.
“The researchers did find a bug that may have sent cookies to some people when they weren’t on Facebook. This was not our intention – a fix for this is already under way,” wrote Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of policy for Europe in a rebuttal.
Allan listed and responded to eight claims isolated from the report written by researchers at the Centre of Interdisciplinary Law and ICT (ICRI) and the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography department (Cosic) at the University of Leuven, and the media, information and telecommunication department (Smit) at Vrije Universiteit Brussels.
Some of the claims listed by Facebook are not made in the report, including one that states “there’s no way to opt out of social ads”. The report clearly states that “users can opt-out from appearing in so-called Social Ads”.
“Facebook’s latest press release (entitled “Setting the record straight”) attributes statements to us that we simply did not make,” said authors of the study Brendan Van Alsenoy from the ICRI and Günes Acar from Cosic.