Facebook and Twitter use the “Like” and “Tweet” buttons that appear on pages across the Internet to collect data on users’ browsing, according to an investigative report by the Wall Street Journal.
The buttons, also called widgets, alert the companies to Web sites that people have visited even when the buttons aren’t clicked. And the widgets are almost everywhere online: Facebook’s buttons appear on a third of the world’s 1,000 most-visited websites; Twitter’s Tweet button appears on 25 percent of those sites; and Google-made widgets appear on 20 percent of the sites.
The buttons were created so people could send web pages of Interest to their social networks. But the WSJ’s report revealed that the social networking companies could use the widgets to collect detailed information about their users, data which could then be sold to advertisers, or used to build the companies’ own targeted advertising business.
The data tracking only works if the person has logged in to Facebook or Twitter within the past month, according to the study, and the sites continue logging users’ browsing information unless the person logs out of Facebook or Twitter. That means, if you close your browser and turn off your computer, but never log out of Facebook or Twitter, the sites will continue tracking your Web site browsing, so long as a widget appears on the sites you hit.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter say they don’t use the information to track users. Facebook said it uses the information for advertising purposes; when a person blasts an article out to their network by clicking share or like, the site’s algorithms comb through Facebook’s advertising clients and try to recommend an ad tailored for those preferences.
All of the companies say the data is anonymized and deleted quickly – Facebook within 90 days, Google within 2 weeks, and Twitter said “quickly.” according to the WSJ.