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Facebook's Like and Twitter's Tweet Button R a Threat to Privacy

Updated on May 19, 2011

Like or Tweet?

We see them all the time on Facebook and Twitter, little buttons labeled, "Like" and "Tweet". Are they just innocent little widgets or more nefarious data collecting devices that track you? If you guessed the latter, you are right.

Turns out they do collect personal data about the websites you visit. The data is sent to both companies even when users do not, I repeat, do not, select the Like or Tweet button on the website or news site. FB's Like button is prolific occupying a third of the 1000 world's most visited websites. Tweet and buttons from Google appear on a quarter of the same popular websites. The data can be used to link users' browsing habits in their name. A person could visit a news article on CNN or visit a blog about sex, even  if the Like or Tweet buttons on those sites. To activate them, a user only needs to log into their FB or Twitter account once per month!

Worse, the personal browsing data is collected even if the person closes their browser or turns off their computer! To avoid it, you must logoff  either FB or Twitter accounts.

Of course, all of the suspect firms state there is nothing nefarious about it. FB states the data is only used for advertising when the widget is clicked to share it with their friends. They claim the browsing data is autonomous so data is not traced to a specific user. FB claims the data is deleted after three months, Google claims it is deleted after two weeks. Twitter claims the data is deleted quickly.

The use of such widgets began only five years ago and back then, they did not collect the browsing habits of users who click those buttons. FB as admitted that FB creates and inserts a cookie into anyone who logs into FB or simply visits the FB website, even if they are not member.

So, be think about it before you press the Like or Tweet button. 

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