Lawmakers accuse Facebook of ducking questions on its privacy practices

Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) accused Facebook of evading questions about whether it tracks users in order to deliver targeted ads on Monday.

The co-chairmen of the Congressional Privacy Caucus said the social networking giant failed to adequately answer questions raised by the patent application that suggest Facebook could be tracking users on other websites. Facebook has denied tracking users, arguing its social plug-ins are voluntary.

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“Facebook seems to be saying one thing and doing another,” Barton said. “In the company’s response, it talks a lot about how they don’t currently ‘track’ users online, but they just asked for a patent that would allow them to do just that. Why ask for something you don’t ever plan on using?"

The pair wrote Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in November about the patent application, referencing an earlier Hillicon report in which a Facebook spokesman insisted the firm "does not track people across the Internet." Facebook declined to comment for this article.

"The practice of obtaining patents on inventions without launching products based on them is common in the technology industry, and no conclusions should be drawn about a company's practices, products or services from the patents it files, acquires or holds in its portfolio," Facebook said in its response, released Monday.

“When provided the opportunity to share its privacy practices with members of Congress at our recent caucus forum, Facebook refused," Markey said. "Now Facebook seems to be refusing to answer the question of what the purpose of this patent application is."


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Much of the data is generated by sites featuring Facebook's "Like" button. Facebook's response repeatedly references the recent findings of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, which found no evidence that the data collected from Facebook users on other websites was used for advertising or profiling users.

But the Irish government's analysis and Facebook's explanations of how the plug-in functions failed to satisfy Markey and Barton, who argued the firm is being deliberately opaque.

“I remain concerned about unanswered questions about how Facebook uses consumers’ personal information,” Markey said. “I plan to follow up with Facebook on this matter and work with my colleagues in Congress to investigate this patent’s intent and potential use more fully.”

“I don’t believe that Facebook adequately addresses that question. If they get a patent that among other things explicitly mentions tracking the information about the activities of users of a social networking system while on another domain — how will it be used?" Barton added.