Written for the Occupancy Marketing blog

Passwords were subject of the month last time, this time we thought it would be good to look at websites who have the ability to follow your online activity – especially Facebook tracking.

Facebook is able to track a huge percentage of its users by the virtue that the majority of users never sign out of Facebook. This means that when you leave Facebook you are still technically signed in and Facebook can continue to follow you. As a user navigates around the internet any page on any site which has a Like button or any other third-party Facebook plugin checks whether each visitor to that page is signed in to Facebook – this allows the plugins to display different content to signed in users.

With Facebook being the main social network (approximately 70% of the UK’s population are active Facebook users) and the percentage of signed in users sitting at approximately 60% at any one time there is the potential for large amounts of information to be passed to Facebook. This information can include IP address (which is your computer’s unique address and includes location) and the pages that you are visiting as well as location, time and date information.

Positives For Users

– Personalised visitor experience
– Easy to opt out – just log out

Negatives For Users

– Loss of privacy as it’s not always explicit what is happening
– Persistence: cookies don’t expire for at least 90 days and there isn’t transparency as to what information is deleted by Facebook

Positives For Companies

– Ability to personalise visitor experience
– Better demographic information for page/site visitors
– Advertising can be highly targeted

User tracking is a big issue at the moment – not just for Facebook – as “Do Not Track” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_Not_Track) is being debated and will soon be a major feature in browsers including Internet Explorer and Firefox. Understandably advertisers want tracking to be turned on by default, and are worried about the implications of a DNT world, privacy advocates want tracking to be opt out and are campaigning for DNT to be enabled by default. This situation is made all the more complicated by companies which have large numbers of users, and the responsibility to look after their privacy, but also make significant income from advertising, and the ability to target these users that boosts this income (Google and Facebook especially).

The takeaway point, at the moment at least, is that if you’re a user you can choose to opt out, and if you’re an advertiser you can continue to target and personalise ads for your users. Watch this space for further information on changes.