Facebook told to stop tracking logged-out web users



Belgian regulators have ordered Facebook to stop tracking people who have logged out of the service—and those who never signed up in the first place.

The Guardian's Samuel Gibbs reports on the local regulators' demands, which come in the wake of a report that said the internet giant "has shown itself particularly miserly in giving precise answers" to its questions about exactly what it does to spy on web users.

According to a report commissioned by the Belgian data protection agency Facebook has been tracking users on a long-term basis who visit any page – be it a fan page, profile or any other portion of the site that does not require a Facebook account to visit – belonging to the Facebook.com domain. The opinion published on Friday noted that because Facebook has the power to link internet users’ browsing habits to their real identity, social network interactions and sensitive data including medical information, religious, sexual and political preferences, it is in a unique position compared to most of the other cases of so-called “third-party tracking”.

Facebook can keep an eye on the web in general thanks to the omnipresent "like" and "share" buttons added to websites, which provide Facebook with a snapshot of technical information concerning those to whom the buttons are served. Even if it's just an IP address and browser environment basics—the proverbial non-Facebook visitor—this metadata could conceivably be cross-referenced with other sources of information to build a picture of internet users' behavior and preferences.

"There is nothing more important to us than the privacy of our users," Facebook told The Guardian, in response to earlier coverage of its troubles with the EU, which has already found that Facebook tracks users without consent.