Facebook Knows Where You've Been

Facebook's plugins across the web appear to gather information even when they're not clicked.

It seems that every website I visit nowadays boasts its own Facebook like button. But what does this actually mean for someone visiting the site? New information suggests these widgets do more than just post information to your Facebook wall if you click the thumbs up icon. Eerily, the buttons are working even if you don’t click it at all.

Privacy debates are flooding the conversation about social media and it’s no secret that Facebook users are now taking more precautions when it comes to sharing information online. I’m not here to ease that “Big Brother” paranoia that the media has rightfully instilled in so many of us. The Wall Street Journal recently revealed that Facebook (along with Twitter) follows users to sites even after they turn off their browser and even computer.

When you see a Facebook like button on another website, Facebook knows you’re there. The crazy thing is, you don’t have to actually click the like button. Just being on that website (like reading a magazine article online) alerts Facebook that you’re there. As long as you’ve logged in to your account within a month, Facebook can track you.

Millions of sites have added these likel button widgets. “Facebook’s buttons appear on a third of the world’s 1,000 most-visited websites, according to the study,” WSJ reports. If this doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, the WSJ puts it into perspective: “[Facebook knows] when one of [it’s] members reads an article about filing for bankruptcy on MSNBC.com or goes to a blog about depression.”

Unless you log out of your Facebook account each time you’re done using it, Facebook follows you to other sites after you’ve finished your Facebook business. I took a look at the code used in all like buttons and I’ve found instances of objects and variables named “CavalryLogger” and “dimension-tracking.” To me it would be Facebook’s version of installing Google analytics since they’re virtually identically installed and executed.

Facebook reps have claimed that unless the like button is actually clicked, no information is gathered. And that these widgets aren’t meant for tracking. But that’s actually a really powerful tracking tool if you think about it.

Facebook knows where you’ve been online.

Guest writer Matt Reed is a developer at Redpepper.