Deactivation Doesn't End Facebook Tracking. Is That Legal?

BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 24:  A visitor holds a paper coffee cup adorned with the Facebook logo at the Facebook Innovation Hub on February 24, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. The Facebook Innovation Hub is a temporary exhibition space where the company is showcasing some of its newest technologies and projects.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 20, 2019 3:00 PM

If you haven't seen Avengers Endgame, this is almost a spoiler alert: Facebook tracking is inevitable.

Facebook is not Thanos, the creature who snapped half of all living things out of existence in the last Avengers' movie. But like the evil ruler, Facebook has seemingly unlimited power in the cyberverse. Facebook can track people who don't use the social media platform and even track people who don't use it. It may be a computer-generated world, but shouldn't there be a law against that?

Privacy Concerns

Alfred Ng can answer that question, at least in the practical world. Writing for CNet, Ng said he deactivated his Facebook account but it didn't matter. He deleted one account, and deactivated another. The company still tracked him. "Even when your account is deactivated, the social network continues collecting data about your online activities," he wrote. "Facebook says it only removes all of your data if you permanently delete your account."

Privacy experts say the ongoing collection of data from deactivated accounts could be considered misleading. "Most people would expect less or no data collection during a deactivated period," said Gabriel Weinberg, CEO and founder of private search engine DuckDuckGo. "Deactivated means cease to operate, and you wouldn't expect all the wheels to be turning."

Meanwhile, a recent study showed that Facebook even tracks people who don't have user accounts. It typically occurs through app developers who share data with Facebook. For example, any website that has integrated a Facebook "Like" button or "tracking pixel" automatically sends data to Facebook.

Privacy Rules

According to Reuters, Facebook is negotiating a settlement that includes long-term regulation over privacy issues. The FTC wants to impose two decades of oversight to protect individual privacy. Facebook may agree to the terms, which include:

  • The company must get permission from users before sharing their data
  • A third-party will audit the oversight program every two years

The possible deal results from an investigation that followed the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The consulting group harvested the data of some 87 million Facebook users without their permission. Facebook has set aside $3 billion for possible fines and expenses related to the investigation.

However, the purported settlement does not address Facebook tracking. That -- tracking or tracking by consent -- apparently is inevitable.

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