Facebook Defends Universal Data Collection

Facebook resorts to finger-pointing to defend collecting data on non-users

Since June of last year, Facebook has been publishing a series called Hard Questions. In the latest installment in that series, David Baser, Facebook’s Product Management Director, gives some details about what kind of data Facebook collects on you even if you don’t have a Facebook account. David acknowledges that his post is partly a response to a question Congress posed to Mark Zuckerberg last week, which puts him a bit on the defensive with regard to the fact of this type of data collection. To wit, why does Facebook do something as arguably intrusive as collect data on folks who have no other relationship to the site?

That question remains implied, but David’s answer to it does not. Here’s what he says, in part:

When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don’t know who is using Facebook.

Many companies offer these types of services and, like Facebook, they also get information from the apps and sites that use them. Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn all have similar Like and Share buttons to help people share things on their services. Google has a popular analytics service. And Amazon, Google and Twitter all offer login features. These companies—and many others—also offer advertising services. In fact, most websites and apps send the same information to multiple companies each time you visit them.

So there you have it. Facebook collects data on everyone, because everyone else is doing it. It comes off a bit like a child responding to a scolding (“And what would you do if Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google all jumped off a bridge?”), but it’s also not completely uninformative. We know all of these companies are doing this, but this type of defense can lead in one of two directions: either the practice is okay and everyone can continue to collect this kind of data, or it isn’t okay and the whole system needs to change, possibly through some kind of industry-wide regulation.

Facebook’s defense of its data collection practices has just called the question on how American society will respond to it.