Facebook again, caught tracking Stack Overflow user activity and data

3 min read

Facebook has been trending in the news because of its ethics and data privacy issues. Right from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to multiple hearings and fine against the company, Facebook has been surrounded by these controversies since quite some time now. Lately,  the Canadian and British Columbia privacy commissioners decided to take Facebook to Federal Court to seek an order because of its privacy practices. And once again, the company makes the headline for tracking users across Stack Overflow.

Well, to explain this better, Stack Overflow directly links to Facebook profile pictures. You must be wondering many third-party platforms allow such tracking, then what’s the big deal in this one? So, the trap is, that this linking unintentionally allows user activity throughout Stack Exchange to be tracked by Facebook and surprisingly, it also tracks the topics you are interested in!

To explain this further, let’s take an example from a Stack Overflow user.

Image source: Stack Overflow

The user says, “Have a look: when I load a page containing any avatars hot-linked from Facebook, my browser automatically sends a request including a Facebook identifying cookie and the URL of the page I’m viewing on Stack Exchange. They don’t just know that I’m visiting the site, they also get to know which topics I’m interested on throughout the network.”

Another user commented on the thread, “Facebook creates ‘shadow’ accounts for many people who don’t have actual accounts (or at least, for people they can’t find an actual account for) in order to consistently/reliably track/gather data to sell.”

Few others are complaining about their profile pictures being attributed directly to facebook.com domains.

The browser is basically making a request to Facebook and the Facebook session cookie identifies the user as well as a referrer header. This header tells Facebook what page the users were on at the time they check the image.

How to save yourself from such creepy activity by Facebook?

A lot of users have suggested selecting the cookies they should be accepting on each of the sites they visit. Also, blocking third-party cookies and setting the browser to remove cookies while closing the browser as a viable option. Manual removal of cookies is advisable while quitting a browser. Few others have suggested using an ad blocker which will refrain the users from going on fishy sites. It is suggested to enable Strict Content Blocking in Firefox for security concerns.

But the matter of concern is that even other tech companies must be involved in collecting the user data and manipulating them and basically playing around our privacy. Just a few years ago, Google was trying to patent the collection of user data. It’s surprising to see how is the world changing around us and we are forced to live in an era where the tech giants are data minded.

To know more about this news, check out the Stack Overflow thread.

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