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Facebook Files For a Patent To Track Its Users On Other Sites 133

Posted by Soulskill
from the right-hand-not-tracking-left-hand dept.
suraj.sun sends word that a recent Facebook patent application details specific methods for tracking its users while they're using other websites. Michael Arrington pointed out over the weekend that this follows explicit statements from Facebook employees that the social networking giant has "no interest in tracking people." Quoting the Patent Application: "In one embodiment, a method is described for tracking information about the activities of users of a social networking system while on another domain. The method includes maintaining a profile for each of one or more users of the social networking system, each profile identifying a connection to one or more other users of the social networking system and including information about the user. The method additionally includes receiving one or more communications from a third-party website having a different domain than the social network system, each message communicating an action taken by a user of the social networking system on the third-party website. The method additionally includes logging the actions taken on the third-party website in the social networking system, each logged action including information about the action."
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Facebook Files For a Patent To Track Its Users On Other Sites

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  • So they went from denying that they track people outside of Facebook...to patenting the process? What time is it? I clearly missed the logic train.
    • by Scutter (18425) on Monday October 03, 2011 @02:55PM (#37592182) Journal

      It's called "lying". Anymore, what companies SAY they're going to do and what they ACTUALLY do rarely have anything in common.

      • by tech4 (2467692)
        No. Just because they patented it doesn't mean they're actually using it. Companies patent lots of things all the time.
        • Sure, just like Apple's spying tech, they just patented it so the bad guys wouldn't be able to use it, see? ^_^

          • by Jahava (946858)

            Sure, just like Apple's spying tech, they just patented it so the bad guys wouldn't be able to use it, see? ^_^

            Not to take sides on the absolute issue here, but there is a huge difference between patenting something and actually using it. This is part of why the patent system is so horrible.

            There are plenty of scenarios that can lead to a company filing a patent. To list a few:

            • A team of research employees devises a series of techniques to track users.
            • Maybe one employee on his "Google Friday" (or equivalent) decided to track people as a pet project.
            • Maybe you just acquired a company who, along with other intellectua
            • by GodInHell (258915)

              Bottom line is that if Facebook spends money researching, developing, and/or devising a technique, they will patent it, regardless of whether or not it will ever see the light of day.

              Lawyer: So, what does this patent do?

              Technologist: It personifies everything everyone hates about our company in one easy to understand package. Also it may produce the kind of data that the government will then routinely demand we turn over.

              Lawyer: Okay, as you know the patent filing procedure, once my fees are paid and we

          • Sure, just like Apple's spying tech, they just patented it so the bad guys wouldn't be able to use it, see? ^_^

            Concerned: "FaceBook, we are concerned that our web presence is being tracked on more than just your site. We are concerned that we cannot opt out of this tracking. What do you have to say about this?"

            FB: "No we don't do that sort of thing. It's immoral and insecure. It's one of the major things that everyone would be concerned about, so trust us, we are NOT doing something like that."

            Concerned: "Oh, okay. We'll trust you. Thanks for the comforting statements. There may still be public statements ab

        • No. Just because they patented it doesn't mean they're actually using it. Companies patent lots of things all the time.

          True perhaps as a generalization. But rather funny, in this specific case, where they definitely do so (and report to me what sites my friends have visited when I am on certain partner (but non-FB) sites).

      • Ah, and that's why the IPO is delayed. Nice move, guys.

    • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {hmryobemag}> on Monday October 03, 2011 @03:13PM (#37592428) Journal

      The claim that they don't track users runs on CNN where all the Facebook users see it while the patent news runs on Slashdot, where the security experts who are already seen by their friends and family as tinfoil hatters see it. It's not illogical. It's a calculated lie.

    • by Chapter80 (926879)

      Sounds like it's time to create a cookie-swapping service. Install this Firefox plug-in, and your facebook "logged out" cookie will be replaced by a random person's. Then go ahead and "like" whatever sites you want.

      I trade my "frequent shopper" cards with people all the time. And the ones that give you a discount on gas? It ends up you can key in a phone number at the gas pump. So pick a random phone number, or a phone number of your arch-enemy, and get a gas discount! (shhh don't tell!)

      • by EdIII (1114411)

        I do the same thing with the shopper discount cards. The whole thing is bullshit. If you look at the discounted prices you can readily see how much value they assign to your purchasing history. If they didn't they would just set the discount price as the regular price and be done with it.

        The easy way to defeat is to share a single phone number with everyone and not care about the gas. Somebody might be taking the credits at the pump, but who cares really. The whole point is to get the discount price.

        • by mjwx (966435)

          I do the same thing with the shopper discount cards. The whole thing is bullshit. If you look at the discounted prices you can readily see how much value they assign to your purchasing history. If they didn't they would just set the discount price as the regular price and be done with it.

          They definitely wouldn't be offering discounts in order to get you to shop there every week.

          Your theory is pants on head retarded.

          Stores offer discounts to garner customer loyalty and regular purchases. It's about k

          • Stores already gather statistics on what products are sold... when they're sold.

            True. However, long-term tracking and classification only works is you have a tag attached to you. That tag is... the shopper's card. Others actually track you by credit card; cash with no shopper's card is the only way out.

            More information attached to individuals is more classifiable, more malleable, and more valuable in the end for sale to other entities.

          • by EdIII (1114411)

            They definitely wouldn't be offering discounts in order to get you to shop there every week.

            Your theory is pants on head retarded.

            Stores offer discounts to garner customer loyalty and regular purchases.

            Read that again a couple of times and tell me who is is "pants on head retarded".

            First off, insults are never productive in a conversation.

            Secondly, you admitted twice that I was right.

        • by Chapter80 (926879)

          You are taking something of actual monetary value away from them and I can imagine at some point, especially in this economy, you will run across somebody that was expecting the credits to be there. Considering your license plate is recorded at the pump, in addition to probably using a payment method that can be tracked, not a good idea to do something that could be a misdemeanor at best, and at worst used with some trumped up interpretations to label you as a hacker and turn it into a felony.

          You are making the assumption that I do this. There's a big difference between laughing at the security of these cards, and succumbing to the temptation of stealing money from someone.

    • by cjb658 (1235986)

      Sadly, there is prior art.

      • That was my first thought... these techniques have been in use, at the very least by google for a decade now. Not sure WTF...
        • by russotto (537200)

          That was my first thought... these techniques have been in use, at the very least by google for a decade now. Not sure WTF...

          Ah, but was exactly the embodiment used in the patent in use? If not, new patent -- "X on social network". In court, one of two things happen -- either your target uses it in the same way as your patent, in which case you win. Or they use it in the older way, which you argue is close enough to infringe, in which case you win.

    • i had my facebook profiles deleted, i also filed a request at the local privacy commission to see what legal backing i have in requesting (demanding) they remove all and any data they have about me from their records, if this works for facebook, it should work for google. Gov. orgs. are however not known for their processing speed, at night and in the weekend the gnomes powering the computers don't work (a bit like with most banks here who don't do money transfers during week-ends) so it might take a while
  • by idontgno (624372) on Monday October 03, 2011 @02:52PM (#37592122) Journal

    We have no interest in tracking people, and we've taken out this patent to make sure no one else can either.

    See? We're your trustworthy friend! Come join our social network!

    • That's the exact logic used by Apple fanboys to defend Apple's patents on using phones as audio bugs and remote-disabling cameras.

  • So much for Darth Sidious/Palpatine being evil. This is evil concentrate.

  • I gave up... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gfxguy (98788) on Monday October 03, 2011 @02:54PM (#37592168)
    It was interesting and nice to connect to a lot of my old high school buddies, but I don't care where people are going for dinner, or bragging about the vacation they're on (how dumb is that, anyway?), so I logged out and deleted all my cookies. Don't know that I'll completely delete my account, but I'm not missing it.
    • by Scutter (18425)

      It was interesting and nice to connect to a lot of my old high school buddies, but I don't care where people are going for dinner, or bragging about the vacation they're on (how dumb is that, anyway?), so I logged out and deleted all my cookies. Don't know that I'll completely delete my account, but I'm not missing it.

      It's not even close to what will delete your account. In fact, they will go to great pains to not delete your account. Google "permanently delete facebook account" for the procedure. Be sure you clear all FB cookies and autologins on every device you have ever owned...

      • by Bucky24 (1943328)
        Or ever even logged in on....
      • by gfxguy (98788)

        I know... I didn't try to delete it, just logged out and deleted cookies for now. I may decide it had some use, so I didn't even try to delete my account... just leave it in limbo for a while.

      • by Haedrian (1676506)

        Its probably much easier to perform plastic surgery and legally change your name..

    • I use Firefox as my primary browser and I wall facebook into IE. I only occasionally log into facebook to contact an old friend or something, but that's it. I have all facebook scripts blocked with NoScript and all facebook cookies blocked by CookieSafe. I also wall Google into their Chrome browser and have done the same blocks for google.com and associated sites. I have left the YouTube script, but overall I think Google is doing the same thing as facebook.
      • by incer (1071224)
        But that only works if there are multiple people connecting to the internet through the same IP as you, or if you use a proxy or Tor.
        • I didn't think the like button worked without any scripts running.
          • by incer (1071224)
            Not talking about scripts, but cookies. What about facebook cookies coming from an host you don't know (and therefore haven't blocked)? Do you check every single cookie you get? Once you get one, the system can link your ID to your IP, right?
            • I use Cookiesafe and have it set to only allow cookies on my whitelist. It is also set to only allow cookies for the domain I am on.
    • Re:I gave up... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DerPflanz (525793) <bart@fri[ ]ft.nl ['eso' in gap]> on Monday October 03, 2011 @05:08PM (#37593578) Homepage

      I'm with you. I stopped caring. Deleted my account today. Also my Google+ account. For me the whole social networking thing was taking too much time with almost nothing in return.

      Next week I'll meet a friend IRL for dinner and beers. I called him to make the meeting.

      • Facebook is a social network that wants to also suck up all kinds of information about you. Google-Plus is an identity management service (according to Eric Schmidt), and has some social-networking features to suck in users.

        I'm interested in social networks, though I'd prefer one that was less obnoxious. I have entirely no interest in an identity management service, especially one where I'm the product, not the customer. Schmidt clarified things in a way that made it real easy to decide whether to join G

    • I don't care where people are going for dinner, or bragging about the vacation they're on

      You do realize that's like "I can watch news on TV and I've got a stash of Playboys so I canceled my Internet connection," right? People do use Facebook for dumb things, but it's also a heck of a networking tool.

      • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)
        It isn't an either-or proposition. Social networking really isn't. Social is face to face, and no amount of rationalizing will change that. It's merely a fad, and FB is happy to make money off your interest in that fad.

        I really loved those clacker balls and pet rocks too.......

    • by antdude (79039)

      You forgot to delete/cancel your account. :P

      • by gfxguy (98788)
        I specifically didn't delete my account. I only recently just cut it off (logged out, deleted cookies, blocked scripts etc.). I will see if I miss it. The answer is "not yet." But I will give it more time.
  • For everybody getting freaked out, I'm pretty sure by third party sites, they mean sites they have a partnership with, too lazy to find which ones, but I posted like a month ago about this when it first surfaced.

    They are only tracking you with their affiliates with which they have achieved systems integration. A cookie is the legacy best practice code approach to sharing data between two sites. I'm sure they had business reasons for using a cookie rather than a web service (helps the smarter than average

    • by MrMarket (983874)
      Exactly. You can't share your Spotify tracks or Netflix que on your timeline without something that monoitors activity while you are on other sites. Not sure why everyone on here is freaking out. If you want to share your life online, you'll have to allow FB to track your life. If you don't want to, stay off FB.
    • by Bucky24 (1943328)
      Appreciate the link.
  • "Nobody likes this? Well fine. We'll patent it." .....

    "Hey guys, leave enough looseness in it so it can be cross-referenced in the future." .....

    "If you don't like the way WE do it, then nobody can do it. End of story. Nyaaaaaaaah!!!!"

    /humor.....?

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday October 03, 2011 @03:06PM (#37592340) Journal

    Apart from the fact that Mark Zuckerberg is a bad dude, how can you patent tracking cookies with a database back end? I mean, that sort of shit has been going on since the 1990s, done by other pre-Zuckerberg evil motherfuckers. What exactly is novel about this? It's like Saddam Hussein patenting "a place where people are burned for eternity and jabbed by evil bastards with pitchforks."

    • by sosume (680416)

      exactly, what about prior art .. this is just ignorant, let's see if the USPTO approves this patent.

      • The USPTO believes in letting people fight it out in court when it comes to ambiguous software patents.
  • tell them you will arrest them and put em in prison for violating people's privacy if they use it...
    • by yacc143 (975862)

      Well, the US does not place any legal requirement on companies related to privacy in general. (There are a number of niche laws, e.g. HIPAA, but in general companies can collect, mix, sell, ... data about your person, and you have basically no say in that.)

      The EU does have a privacy directive, and at least some member countries consider "having control about your personal data" a human right. Still violating the EU data protection directive usually means only an administrative fine, although if they piss of

  • How can an action That is against the law "Privacy Laws" be patented? Reasonable question don't ya think?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    WHY I also set myself up the way I do online layering of security measures, in:

    ---

    1.) Custom HOSTS files (mine's currently 1,586,590++ entries strong vs. known malicious sites/servers, botnet C&C servers, bogus adbanners (& ads in general) servers, phishing + spamming sites, & for security's sake alone (I get more out of it speedwise too via "hardcoding fav. sites" into it also, avoiding DNS redirected-poisoned dns servers, & getting there faster by avoiding them totally (their slower lookup

    • by sosume (680416)

      dude .. 1,586,590++ entries in your host file ..are you for real?
      what, you think that setting up a local BIND might affect performance?
      must be a troll and I bit.

  • This appears to circumvent the EU cookie law and could be sold to others as a means for doing the same. Evil, or evil genius?

    CS-

    • by yacc143 (975862)

      Well, judges love it if you try to circumvent laws.

      And I do not think that you can circumvent this directive as easily, as in fact it clears up handling of cookies, and allows cookies in some situations. The generic data protection directive that this directive amends, is still law, and it's more strict (although in more generic terms) on cookie usage. And I do not think that Facebook has any legitimate legal purpose to track non-users. Or to create shadow profiles from data other users have provided them,

  • by EdZ (755139)
    Given that Facebook ALREADY tracks you via various methods between sites (usually with the little 'like' button, but also with cookies and non-displaying javascript), unless this is yet another tracking method, does their existing use not invalidate their patent? Does pushing client side code count as publishing? It looks like they're trying to patent the entire method, rather than just the unseen back-end.
    • This is true. Facebook tracks you all over the place with their Like buttons and does who-knows-what with the data. They'll even get a little info on you if you have their scripts blocked, the tracking can work on a basic level using pure HTML.

      • by Nursie (632944)

        Which is why you use adblock to block the loading of any resources from facebook or fbcdn when you're not directly visiting facebook.com.

        Helps, IMHO.

  • The few individuals concerned with their privacy have long fled Facebook. Whatever changes Facebook makes will only hurt those idiotic enough to stay on the social networking site.
  • Block cookies in your browser from *.facebook.com. Problem solved.

    (Note that this will prevent you from using Facebook as well.)

    • by UberOogie (464002)
      And nothing of value was lost.
    • by Haedrian (1676506)

      Solution 2:

      Get two browsers. Set one dedicated browser for facebook, block all cookies in primary.

      Problem solved.

      Solution 3:

      Set a rule using adblock/noscript (can't remember which it was) to disallow *.facebook.com cookies except on facebook.com

      Problem solved.

    • in /etc/hosts:

      127.0.0.1 www.facebook.com
      127.0.0.1 facebook.com

      An added benefit is your kids can't login either

  • by iceaxe (18903) on Monday October 03, 2011 @03:59PM (#37592914) Journal

    ...not to use FB.

    Also not using G+.

    I am interested in Diaspora [joindiaspora.com]. Then again, I don't really care that much about web based "social networking". I talk to my family and friends in person, on the phone, and via email and SMS. I'm not looking for a bunch of new casual acquaintances, I already have a date lined up every week (or more) for the rest of my life, and I don't have time to read about other peoples' breakfasts. (What am I doing here on /., then?)

    • by shish (588640)

      I already have a date lined up every week (or more) for the rest of my life

      I hate to break this to you, but if you don't have seven dates every week, you are severely misunderstanding the gregorian calendar :-/

  • When Facebook introduced the "Like" button which could be installed on other websites across domains it was obvious (at least to me) that it would become a way to trace users on other websites. Anywhere you now see a "Like" button by Facebook you can be assured that your stored cookie information is being transmitted to Facebook directly for tracking purposes.

    Now, I have not looked into the code for the "Like" button, but it would not surprise me at all that this will be the means they use.
  • the third-party website 140 transmits a conversion page, such as a confirmation or "thank you" page to the user at the user's client device. In particular embodiment, this page includes an embedded call or code segment (e.g., JavaScript) in the HTML or other structured document code (e.g., in an HREF (Hypertext REFerence) that, in particular embodiments, generates a tracking pixel that, when executed by the client's browser or other rendering application, generates a tracking pixel or image tag that is then

  • by Daetrin (576516) on Monday October 03, 2011 @04:10PM (#37593038)
    In a perfect world they would get their patent and sue anyone else who tried to track users in the same manner into the ground. Then we'd only have to worry about one site horribly violating our privacy and those who cared could avoid it.

    Unfortunately in the real world Facebook would only be all too happy to license this special secret technology to anyone willing to pay the appropriate fees.
  • I need a tabbed browser with cookie sandboxing, or several instances of separate browsers (like firefox portable or whatever) merged into a tabbed window.

    I have no problem with facebook and google+ keeping track of my every move if my browser is the equivalent of the James Bond rotating number plate.

    Please suggest solutions.

  • Do I need a separate browser, with separate cookie storage, just for running Facebook? Or does it need its own virtual machine? It's own separate computer and Internet connection?

    Or do I need a government to slam the hammer down hard on FB?
    • by intosh (2466142)

      Do I need a separate browser, with separate cookie storage, just for running Facebook? Or does it need its own virtual machine? It's own separate computer and Internet connection?

      Well, new browser profile is a must as also totally new IP address - use it only for FB. Change also location (geolocation) and MAC address... :)

  • I don't see where in the patent application that it says Facebook is the applicant.

    Not that I'm a fan of FB (I plan to leave during the Great Facebook Postout on 10/10), but are they really the ones who filed the patent?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by enilnomi (797821)
      This guy's pretty sure [seobythesea.com]: While the patent doesn't say on its face that it belongs to Facebook, it is listed in the USPTO assignment database as being assigned to Facebook.
    • About 40% down the page, you'll see "(e.g., facebook.com/impression.php)", as well as some sample code with a Facebook URL in it, and another reference to a Facebook URL. I think it'd be extremely unusual for one company to use a different companies URL's in their examples in papers. Although I suppose it's possible. Also, I found out at http://seobythesea.com/2011/09/facebook-patent-application-target-ads/ [seobythesea.com] , that this patent is assigned to Facebook in the USPTO assignment database.
    • Take a look at the names on the patent. Then ask where they work. No, I'm not going to google that for you.
  • Well, yeah. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thejoelpatrol (764408) on Monday October 03, 2011 @05:14PM (#37593618)
    If you're still listening to anything Facebook says, I don't know what else to tell you. This is hardly the first time they've lied about something like this. They say things that are so implausible that they aren't worth listening to. They want every piece of data. Period. They will do whatever they can to get more data on people. Any time they say something to the contrary, they are lying.
  • Congratulations Facebook! You just became the first domain I've ever completed blocked from being allowed to set any cookies on my machine. You win!
  • I've been reading so many of these patently absurd patent stories, that adsense thinks I'm a troll myself! I wish I had a screen cap tool installed on this fondleslab but I got offered (oh, the audacity!) an ad to a Kentucky troll harvesting sleaze gang: "we provide the money to make the court system work for you"... What fuckers...

    I'm not pasting the link but I'm tempted to read all about it, I'm really curious how these twisted greedy shmucks think...
  • No No No! We're looking at this completely wrong! Facebook isn't patenting ways to invade our privacy. They're pattenting cross site scripting so that they can stop it! See, facebook is on OUR side!

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