AP FACT CHECK: Does Facebook collect data on non-members?

AP FACT CHECK:  Does Facebook collect data on non-members?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 11, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election and data privacy. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Mark Zuckerberg cited “security purposes” Wednesday when asked by several lawmakers about Facebook’s collection of personal data on people who never signed up for the social network but whose online behavior is nevertheless tracked by the company. But he offered little elaboration.

Privacy advocates say such data collection is used to create “shadow profiles.”

ZUCKERBERG: “In general, we collect data of people who have not signed up for Facebook for security purposes,” the Facebook CEO said when asked by Rep. Ben Lujan, D-N.M., if the company has detailed profiles on people who never joined. He cited the need to help prevent the unauthorized “scraping” of user data from the platform. He also said that “anyone can turn off and opt out of any data collection for ads, whether they use our services or not.”

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., asked if Facebook could follow his online interactions after he’d logged out.

“There may be specific things about how you use Facebook, even if you’re not logged in, that we — that we keep track of, to make sure that people aren’t abusing the systems, ” Zuckerberg said.

THE FACTS: Facebook collects data on people’s online habits regardless of whether they are users. It pays third-party websites and mobile apps to let it place “cookies” and invisible pixels — as well as “like” and “share” buttons — on them. They report back to Facebook on people’s surfing habits to help it better target ads.

It’s consistently in the top three data-collectors in the field, along with Google, said Reuben Binns, an Oxford University computer scientist who researches the beacons.

In February, a Belgian court ruled that Facebook had violated European privacy law with such tracking because it had not obtained consent either to collect or store the data.

It didn’t matter that Facebook was gathering personally identifiable information such as names or phone numbers, said Brendan Van Alsenoy, a legal adviser to the Belgian Privacy Commission. The European Union notion of what constitutes personal data is broader. Facebook has appealed.

Another way Facebook could be gathering data for “shadow profiles ” is by encouraging people to upload their contacts when they sign up — to make it easier to “find friends.”

American Civil Liberties Union senior staff technologist Daniel Kahn Gillmor said he got an unsolicited email from Facebook encouraging him to join. It included names and email addresses of friends and relatives and at least one “web bug” designed to identify him to Facebook’s web servers when he opened the email.


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EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by public figures