Judge Says Facebook Cookie 'Tracking' was Legal

John Lister's picture

A judge has thrown out a lawsuit which accused Facebook of tracking web users after they logged out of the site. Judge Edward Davila said the people bringing the case hadn't proven any financial loss or a breach of reasonable privacy expectations.

The case involves website cookies, which are small text files created by a browser and stored on a user's computer. The cookies are readable by websites and can be used to identify the user and customize the content they see when visiting a page.

In this case, the cookies were being read by third party websites that included a "Facebook Like" button on their articles. If the user clicked the "like" button, their Facebook account would be updated, and some of their friends would see a notification to say they had liked the story on the third-party site. In effect, it was a one-click way to share a story with multiple friends using another site.

Plaintiffs: Cookies 'Tracked Web Visits'

The use of the cookies meant users who had previously logged out of Facebook's website could still "like" a third-party site's article without having to type their Facebook details in again.

The people bringing the case claim that Facebook was breaching privacy and wiretapping laws based on two main issues. First was that Facebook cookies could be used to identify users on third-party sites - even if the "like" button wasn't clicked. Secondly: had the user clicked the "like" button, this data could have then be used to tailor ads on Facebook's site.

Judge Davila rejected the argument that when a user visited such a page, information from the cookie was sent both to Facebook and the site they were visiting. He said "The fact that a user's web browser automatically sends the same information to both parties does not establish that one party intercepted the user's communication with the other." (Source: reuters.com)

No Harm, No Foul

He also noted there was no evidence of financial harm or privacy violations, pointing out that the people bringing the case could have avoided the issue completely by using opt-out tools that block certain cookies, or by using the "incognito" or "private browsing" modes in their web browsers.

Davila says the plaintiffs can't bring a new case relating to privacy or wiretapping. Instead, he says if they want to continue their legal fight, they'll need to argue Facebook has breached its contract with them. (Source: theguardian.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Did the judge make the right decision? Does Facebook's use of cookies sound reasonable in this situation? Should it be easier to block tracking cookies?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Web cookies for the most part are harmless, even if antivirus and antimalware programs claim they are a "privacy risk". The truth is: if you don't want to be tracked, then don't use cookies. If you don't use cookies - be warned that you will most likely break website functionality on all sites you visit in some form or another, including: not being able to login to the site, or being able to produce custom content - just to name a few.