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The FCC Says It Can't Force Google and Facebook To Stop Tracking Their Users (washingtonpost.com) 127

An anonymous reader writes: The FCC announced that it will not prevent Facebook, Google, and other websites from not honoring users' Do Not Track requests that make it difficult for them to track online activities. The Washington Post reports: "The announcement is a blow to privacy advocates who had petitioned the agency for stronger Internet privacy rules. But it's a win for many Silicon Valley companies whose business models rely on monetizing Internet users' personal data. It's also the latest move in an ongoing battle to defend the agency's new net neutrality rules, which opponents warned would result in the regulation of popular Web sites and online services. By rejecting the petition, the FCC likely hopes to defuse that argument. The rules, which took effect this summer, allow the FCC to regulate only providers of Internet access, not individual Web sites, said a senior agency official."
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The FCC Says It Can't Force Google and Facebook To Stop Tracking Their Users

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  • Privacy Badger
    • Re:But we can (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @12:55PM (#50888119)

      Then:
      Users: hey can you please stop tracking us so much?
      Social Media: screw you

      Now:
      Social Media: hey please don't use stuff to block our tracking thanks
      Users: screw you

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Exactly. I recently got fiber and now have a 40mbps connection with much lower latency than the previous connection. But, sites load just as slowly now as they did then in many cases. Some of them have actually gotten worse.

        So, now I use additional adblockers in addition to noscript, request policy and ghostery. Not to mention privacy badger to further screw up the tracking.

        The worst thing is that there's no purpose the only times I ever click on ads are either a complete mistake or because the information

      • Re:But we can (Score:4, Insightful)

        by houstonbofh ( 602064 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @01:05PM (#50888173)
        And it will always be this way. People will only put up with so much intrusion before creating tools to block it. And those tools will swing way back past the point they would have accepted as reasonable... Go ahead... Kill the goose.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          People will only put up with so much intrusion before creating tools to block it. And those tools will swing way back past the point they would have accepted as reasonable... Go ahead... Kill the goose.

          Exactly- the backlash is almost always greater than what it would have been if they hadn't pushed so hard to begin with. They're always too greedy, too aggressive, too intrusive...and then they complain when people assert themselves and push back.

          • Re:But we can (Score:5, Informative)

            by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @03:18PM (#50888791)

            Yeah, that must be why Chrome's percentage of the browser market has been tanking... oh wait.

            It's pretty simple - if you don't like what a company is doing, don't use their products. But people don't like to do that - they want to have their cake and eat it too. I quit Facebook a couple years ago. Most of my family (including my wife) continues to use it, though; and it's the standard place family photos and family news first get posted. Sometimes you miss out on certain things by making the choice to not participate... and that's the hard part of making that decision.

            Not using Chrome, and using an alternative search engine like DuckDuckGo, is an easier choice to make - but it still requires a conscious decision and a change in your personal habits.

            Obviously this isn't 100% effective - Facebook and Google have lots of ways to track individuals, including back room deals with companies like Verizon for access to super cookies and whatnot. But it's at least making their records incomplete and harder to tie to you as a specific individual... not to mention the tacit approval people who continue to use their services are providing them.

            • if you don't like what a company is doing, don't use their products.

              I'd rather modify something I use to fit my needs. For example, it seems like a lot of the stuff I buy needs a extra hole drilled somewhere or a lanyard attached or another switch installed or whatever. I even modify sandwiches I buy to suit my tastes (literally) by adding my own mustard or mayonnaise whatever.

              Now I know it's not the same with a website as I'm not paying for anything on the site directly, but I may refer others to the site or possibly buy a product they sell (not through a platform-served m

            • It's pretty simple - if you don't like what a user is doing, don't serve the page to him.

              FTFY. Until then, I'll tell my browser to interpret the data received however the fuck I want, thank you very much!

      • Re:But we can (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @01:35PM (#50888321)

        Pretty much this.

        We're seeing the same now with ads and ad companies. Ad companies used to pretty much piss on it when their users asked them to maybe tone down the invasiveness of their ads, thinking that there was nothing their users could possibly do to fight back until users did actually start fighting back in masses. Now we see companies actually suing users over using ad blockers, trying to use copyright as a reason (because that ad blocker altered the page and it's no longer how they made it, and they claim copyright does not allow you to alter it. I don't make this up). Mostly out of desperation because people do now use ad blockers in masses, threatening the business model based on ad revenue.

        The same can easily happen to invasive tracking if companies that make a living of tracking user habits don't watch out. There is already a movement where people, knowing they cannot avoid leaving footprints, want to poison the data pool by dumping data trash into it to make data indistinguishable from noise, invalidating the data gathered altogether. For now, this is, as it was with ad blockers, a minority of users. Not enough to threaten the tracking business model.

        This can stay that way if, and only if, trackers don't go overboard and piss off the average user enough that they start using data poisoners.

        • Ad companies used to pretty much piss on it when their users asked them to maybe tone down the invasiveness of their ads, thinking that there was nothing their users could possibly do to fight back until users did actually start fighting back in masses.

          This worries me. If enough people start using ad-block (and they should), then the natural response from advertisers is to try to create ads that get around the blockers. It's going to be a game of cat-and-mouse, with users in the middle.

          • What do you mean "if".

            In a typical day I will see websites with HTML5 pop-overs, pages not showing content, and (my personal favourite) a banner saying "we can see you're blocking our ads. If you want to see our content disable adblocking", to which I direct my middle finger at the content provider and close the tab.

            • Are you running NoScript? That might help with some of that stuff, by blocking the JS that detects ad-blocking. I emphasize "might".

              • No I'm not. I got sick of having to click 100 times to make every website work.

                That said I have been considering going back to using it.

                • Why would you need to click 100 times to make every website work?

                  Here's a tip: go to the settings and whitelist all scripts from that site's own domain. That's usually most of the stuff that has to be enabled to make a website work, and doesn't give you too much crap usually.

                  After that, you'll find some sites need to have *cdn.com (or something like that) enabled. That's where the site is linked to some "content delivery network" like AWS. Whitelist those on an individual basis.

                  There's a few other things

                  • by Anonymous Coward

                    Eh, give him some leeway for hyperbole. It's not uncommon to visit a site: empty page. Sigh. Click Noscript, click "allow example.com". Click off the Noscript menu. Page reloads. Still white. Sigh. Click Noscript, there are three new domains listed. Be liberal and allow all three. Click off the Noscript menu. Page reloads. Still broken. Click Noscript again. Now there are ANOTHER couple of domains. Click to allow them. Click off the menu. The page finally loads!

                    Total count: 12 clicks for

                  • Increasingly, websites seem to rely on third-party javascript to function. At that point, I don't know which of twelve sites are providing needed functionality, optional functionality, or stuff I don't want. That's why I installed AdBlock Plus: NoScript wasn't doing the job anymore.

                    • APB doesn't work for that. It only blocks actual ads, not scripts in general. Plus, it's a memory hog, and also allows some advertising where they pay ABP to be whitelisted.

                      uBlock Origin is a much better ad-blocker, and uses far fewer resources. However, it still doesn't block all scripts, so you end up with a really slow browser hogging CPU and memory because the ridiculous amount of tracking scripts in use.

                      NoScript fixes that, but as you point out, it's not as easy to use. However, the rule I've found

                    • I used to not have many problems with scripts, but that's changed over time. NoScript has become more of a pain and less useful.

                      As far as ABP goes, they have standards for ads that I'm happy to accept. I don't want overly distracting ads, and I don't trust them not to contain malware, but I'm fine with simpler ads. I'm not all that worried about malware from other sources, which may or may not be a good call. Therefore, ABP works for me.

                    • I used to use just uBlock Origin (and ABP before that). My browser was dirt slow. After I installed NoScript, things got a LOT faster. So just blocking ads didn't work for me; all those other tracking scripts were just using up too many resources.

                  • Here's a tip: go to the settings and whitelist all scripts from that site's own domain. That's usually most of the stuff that has to be enabled to make a website work, and doesn't give you too much crap usually.

                    After that, you'll find some sites need to have *cdn.com (or something like that) enabled. That's where the site is linked to some "content delivery network" like AWS. Whitelist those on an individual basis.

                    Wow, I thought I was going to see someone tell me I missed something obvious and simple.
                    I'm just trying to browse the internet man. That is way too much work. Especially when reloading the page after allowing some script will only lead to the next broken content being loaded.

                    • I've been doing this for a month or so, and I don't find it to be "way too much work". Honestly, there aren't that many sites that really need all these scripts to work. Just about every site these days needs a locally-hosted script to work it seems, but that's taken care of with my point #1 (Options->General->Temporarily allow top-level sites by default->Base 2nd level Domains). Just set that one option and most sites work fine.

                      After that, you'll find some sites that need stuff from some CDN.

            • What do you mean "if".

              In a typical day I will see websites with HTML5 pop-overs, pages not showing content, and (my personal favourite) a banner saying "we can see you're blocking our ads. If you want to see our content disable adblocking", to which I direct my middle finger at the content provider and close the tab.

              Would have given mod points for this.

          • No. Actually, their response is trying to outlaw ad blockers and their use.

            Remember, you're dealing with managers. Their response to a technical problem is a legal solution.

            • Unfortunately, they now seem set to have a new weapon against users: TPP.
              • The battle is not over. It's not won yet, not by a long shot, but it also is not lost.

                Basically we cannot lose it. Though it's doubtful what we'd gain when we win.

                • One partial solution would be to make a modern-day equivalent of FIDOnet. Latency would still be a problem, but I think there are enough people addicted to Facebook and Twitter that there would be sufficient nodes available at any time of the day or night.
          • by flajann ( 658201 )
            Indeed. They have long since gotten around the built-in popup block in most browsers by doing the same directly at the HTML level. Nothing is more annoying than the entire page darkening up while I'm reading and then seeing that annoying sneaky pop-up. I usually close the tab at that point.

            Tracking is becoming more insidious every day. Now, Hotspots will record the probe requests your cellphones send out looking for a WiFi to connect to, and will include your MAC address for technical reasons (can probe f

          • by Khyber ( 864651 )

            " then the natural response from advertisers is to try to create ads that get around the blockers."

            At which point they're circumventing my security measures and will get held accountable in court for such.

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @12:49PM (#50888089)

    Because it's the FTC's job, not the FCC's.

    The Federal Trade Commission regulates things like this -- business interactions with customers -- in the same way it regulates the federal Do Not Call list.

    If you are asking the FCC to regulate this, you are asking the wrong regulatory body; you might as well be asking the FDA to regulate it, because you think that being tracked all the time is injurious to people's mental health.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It IS injurious to people's mental health.

      Just about as much as their hallucinations that Facebook, Google, and the like, really give a shit that you're a man in his 30's looking for purple Beanie Babies of My Little Broni at 3am.

      Forget I typed that.

    • Well, can the better business bureau stop those really annoying waiters/waitresses from asking all about you? No. But maybe one could advise restaurant staff not to follow their customers to the restroom. Also maybe a restaurant with a sign outside which states, "Free Food" should not be so enticing.
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      The FCC if is so chose and if the US government was so inclined, could simply ban the trade in people's information and simply require that only fiscally relevant details be retained by business, unless information is held at the person request and is only accessible by the person that requested it to be stored. Very effective as the FCC can ban the electronic transmittal of that information and add a small fine, say $10 per infraction of which person whose privacy was sold gets say half (might not seem li

    • Actually, I'm not sure it's the FTC's job either. This is one of those places where the International nature of the Internet which usually protects individual users from government censorship, ends up hurting them. If the U.S. government were to mandate that Google and Facebook honor Do Not Track requests, what's to stop them from just moving all their servers to a country which won't impede them from tracking users? The only way to enforce it then would be to require Google and Facebook abide by U.S. la
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The FCC Says It Can't Force Google and Facebook To Stop Tracking Their Users

    ... nor should they. Nobody is forcing anybody to use gmail and facebook. If you don't want your personal data monitized - and I know this is a heretical idea - how about don't use services "whose business models rely on monetizing Internet users' personal data"?

    I know somebody is going to say, "... But tracking cookies! But like buttons!" But you don't have to load those either!

    Seriously people, FB became "the internet" for hundreds of millions of people because they all decided to use it. Nobody hel

    • You can communicate just fine on the internet without using FB.

      OMG, DEATH to the BLASPHEMER!

      Seriously, though, you're exactly right. The users helped make Facebook what it is and they objected hardly at all as Facebook's reach and intrusive nature grew and grew and grew.

      I don't have a Facebook account, and unless I'm forced to at gunpoint, I never will.

      • I don't have a Facebook account, and unless I'm forced to at gunpoint, I never will.

        You already have a Facebook account. Facebook creates shadow Facebook accounts for those who are willing to create one themselves.

        • You already have a Facebook account. Facebook creates shadow Facebook accounts for those who are willing to create one themselves.

          (You mean "unwilling", right?)

          But anyway, nope. I've looked from time to time and there's never anything there that has anything to do with me. Maybe they're hiding it from view, but if that's the case then I don't care.

          So no, I don't think there's a shadow Facebook account for me.

    • You have a point for some, but how does the average and unsophisticated user totally avoid google? Just not searching on www.google.com is not enough...
      • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
        If the average and unsophisticated user is worried about his privacy, he's probably not average or unsophisticated. There are a number of privacy management plugins you can install on popular browsers that can help with this. If you're really paranoid, you could just do all your web browsing with Tor Browser and never sign in to anything. Especially not Facebook.

        The most current popular browsers all have an agenda and don't have your best interests in mind. Neither does the HTTP standard. I keep thinking

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You have a point for some, but how does the average and unsophisticated user totally avoid google? Just not searching on www.google.com is not enough...

        To avoid Google tracking you need to avoid Android phones and Chrome PCs, Chrome browser, all Google services (Search, GMail, Maps, Drive, Docs, etc.), and all sites that use Google analytics or adwords (2 Google trackers here on Slashdot). The last ones you can block, the others they can track you even with blocking attempts (fingerprinting etc.).

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 )

      "Hey, why didn't you invite me to the party?"
      "What? I announced it like 3 months ago!"
      "I never heard anything about it."
      "It's been on my Facebook page for like ever, didn't you check?"

      This isn't so far from the average conversation I have with friends. Not having a Facebook account means that I miss even more parties and gatherings than I did before Facebook became an issue.

      So no, I don't have to have Facebook. But then again, I also have no big problem with being a social pariah.

      • If Facebook is the only way they have to contact me about a party, then I'd rather not "party" with them anyway. I don't associate with idiots.
    • Nope. The vast majority of persons have made no such choice because they have no idea the data Google and Facebook is collecting on them. For example, you will not find anything in their T&C about them providing all your personal info to the NSA.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      you don't have to load those either? I suppose you don't have to visit pretty much any webpages either or read any news. or you can use hosts *cough*.

      even that isn't foolproof though.

      and once they introduce facial recognition cameras on the streets that tag you when you walk past starbucks you can just wear a bag over your head too.

      just how the heck are you supposed to know in ADVANCE that cnn.com has facebook and google tracking on it, or your local newspapers page, when they go out of their way to purpose

  • It is impossible and futile to enforce. And besides the government needs the info also. What could be more convenient than to put Google, et al in charge of *information retrieval*?

  • by shaitand ( 626655 )
    "The announcement is a blow to privacy advocates who had petitioned the agency for stronger Internet privacy rules. But it's a win for many Silicon Valley companies whose business models rely on monetizing Internet users' personal data."

    In other words, it is a loss for people. Last I checked the entire purpose of the FCC was to protect people from large corporate entities. Clearly laying down on the job today.
    • I don't know that it is a loss. So what you look at and talk about on a particular web site is scanned and you are placed into one of many potential advertising bins.

      Seriously, I don't see how this is a bad thing. It may even arguably be a good thing by only serving you ads for things you might be interested in.

      • "It may even arguably be a good thing by only serving you ads for things you might be interested in."

        My personal data is my property. It's my right to decide who may have it, how valuable it is, and under what terms if any I will part with it. Seeing ads I might be interested in when I'm not even seeking to buy something is nowhere near as valuable as my privacy. Not even in the same ballpark. I'd be willing to bleed on a battlefield to protect the right to privacy and personal data.

        The money isn't even goi
    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      I don't think you ever checked 'cause that's not what the FCC's charter says. It has never said such.

  • One that keeps track of which sites set what cookies, then randomly swaps them with someone else using the plugin.

    I dunno, is it better to use plugins to block tracking, or to use plugins to fuzz the data enough that the tracking is useless?
  • If the FCC had this power, you could ask it about all manner of other stuff- "hey FCC, these adblockers are interfering with our, uh, 'transmission'", etc.

    Maybe.

    The reason this is ok is because there's plenty of workarounds, and they are becoming more common. If we really care about this, we could get laws passed, but expecting this to fall under the FCC in the first place seems hopeful and blind to the possible downsides.

  • by DERoss ( 1919496 ) on Sunday November 08, 2015 @04:39PM (#50889163)

    I use the Mozilla-based browser, SeaMonkey. Anyone using Firefox should also be able to do the following:

    1. On my PC, I marked cookies.sqlite as read only. Web sites might think they are setting cookies, but those cookies disappear as soon as I terminate my browser. For sites where I want to keep cookies, I terminate my browser, change cookies.sqlite to read-write, start a new browser session, visit only the one site, use the Cookie Manager to delete unwanted cookies, terminate my browser, and change cookies.sqlite back to read-only.

    2. I installed the AdBlock Plus extension for my browser. I do not use any of the subscription sets of filters. Instead, I create my own filters.

    3. I installed the Secret Agent extension from https://www.dephormation.org.u... [dephormation.org.uk] for my browser. This sends ever-changing request headers when I request a Web page. Each time I request a new Web page or reload the current page, the Web server thinks I am a different user. This often makes Web sites respond as if I were in a different nation.

    4. I occasionally capture the response headers when I request a Web page. If I see responses from unrelated domains, I check the Web site's privacy policy. I successfully made a bank and a credit union remove hidden responses to Facebook that violated their privacy policies. For the credit union, I had to file a formal complaint with their federal regulatory agency to get a satisfactory response.

    5. I often use anti-malware applications to scan for tracking cookies, deleting any that are found.

    • You need to stop using Secret Agent. It makes you stand out even more so. It actually helps with "fingerprinting" so I would recommend you drop it.
    • You can replace most of your #1 and #5 by using separate browser user profiles and using command line arguments to start the browser with a preferred profile and with/without private/incognito mode for whatever use-case you currently have.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sure, the FCC claim they can't interfere with any idiot who agrees to the TOS and Privacy Contracts of these companies like Google and Facebook; but what about the internet users who have nothing to do with these companies? Their rights are being stomped on because Google and Facebook are tracking THEM too. The FCC should have to step in here because these are the innocent being effed over by these large companies where they have no legal standing to do so.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Facebook tracks everybody, not just users of their service.

    THAT is the issue.

    I've never created a facebook account, but those DAMN "like" buttons track everywhere we go on the internet.

    THAT is the issue.

    I don't have any relationship with facebook.
    I don't want any relationship with facebook - EVER. But I cannot stop them from tracking me online.

    THAT is the issue.

    The same would apply to google if I wasn't addicted to google voice.

  • ... after a week satisfying Bill's demands in the cell, I am sure that the jailed GoogBookZon executives will be sure that their programmers will be able to fix this problem before the executives go back into Big Butch Bill's cell.

    There is nothing like a week of anal rape to change your perspective on corporate versus individual rights.

    No, you don't get lubricant.

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