privacy

Facebook is facing growing negative reaction to its privacy intrusions.

Joseph Farah, WND founder and CEO, explained in a commentary this month how Facebook and Google, “sharing an ultra-left worldview, dominate both advertising revenues and control of the distribution of content in America and throughout the Western world. Add Amazon to the mix and the deck is so stacked against independent media voices and freedom of speech that the First Amendment could soon become a meaningless, irrelevant relic. Together, the three companies, are without question the most important media companies in the world – even though they aren’t known for creating content.”

Those trends certainly impact consumers, with the loss of choice, alternative voice and freedom of expression.

But a new court fight is developing in which Facebook is accused of tracking consumers’ online movements, even if they’re not logged in to the online social media site.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, EPIC, revealed it has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where arguments are being held soon on a case brought by Perrin Aikens Davis, Brian Lentz, Cynthia Quinn and Matthew Vickery against Facebook.

“At issue is whether Facebook violated the privacy rights of users by tracking their web browsing even after they logged out of the platform,” EPIC explains.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California had dismissed the claims, asserting “users should develop countermeasures to assert their privacy rights.”

EPIC has argued on behalf of internet privacy since 1997, when it conducted the first privacy survey of frequently visited websites and identified the risks that “cookies” would be used to track consumers.

A few years later, it filed the first Federal Trade Commission complaint against a company for cookie tracking.

The Facebook actions deserve a significant response, the organization argues, because the company hides behind “like” buttons on their pages, and “secretly and surreptitiously builds detailed profiles on users even when they are no longer using the service.”

“This is precisely the type of invasive business practice that privacy laws were enacted to limit,” EPIC told the appeals court.

“Users expect that their web browsing history will remain private – no one imagines a marketing executive standing over their shoulder and taking notes as they use the internet – but the lower court improperly assumed otherwise, a clear error at the motion to dismiss stage.”

The filing explains: “Over the last two decades, the persistent tracking of internet users has grown more sophisticated and more secretive. A technique that was originally developed to assist users complete purchases on a particular website has been transformed into a method for tagging, tracking and monitoring people as they move across the network. Even technology experts with access to sophisticated privacy tools lack the ability to limit many of these new tracking techniques.”

The so-called “persistent identifier,” also known as a “magic cookie,” maintains the identity of the web user.

But the big companies immediately jumped on the opportunity and began not only helping users at websites, but tracking them everywhere.

In the two decades since it started identifying the problem, EPIC said, things have changed.

“Consumer tracking and profiling have proliferated in ways that would have been unimaginable to consumers at the time. Methods of web tracking have evolved beyond simple cookie tracking: companies now employ browser ‘fingerprinting,’ use invisible images called ‘pixel tags’ or ‘web beacons,’ collect unique device identifiers associated with users’ computers and phones, and use email addresses and other persistent identifiers to profile users.”

Facebook has established a reputation for deceiving users and, as a result, settled FTC in 2011 of privacy violations.

The company, however, simply refused to follow the terms of its own settlement, and just this year it was found to have allowed political data mining firm Cambridge Analytica access to personal details of 87 million users.

More investigations followed.

But that makes the lower court’s conclusion that consumers should “have taken steps to keep their browsing histories private” wrong, the brief said.

“It is unreasonable to expect the average user to understand the various plug-ins, applications, and complicated settings necessary to prevent advanced tracking techniques,” the brief argued. “Sophisticated users are frequently overwhelmed by the complexity and pervasiveness of these practices. Second, any user hoping to defeat tracking over time would need to constantly survey the field of emerging tracking techniques and develop new countermeasures.”

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