The Obama administration recently introduced the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, a proposal that aims to provide internet users with more control of the information they share with companies online. Created in part by members of the White House, Federal Trade Commission and Digital Advertising Alliance, the bill plans to leverage the Do Not Track browser feature among other tools to enforce the included provisions.
Speaking of Do Not Track, the initiative has landed the support of some of the internet’s most influential brands, including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. But one internet powerhouse has been made even more conspicuous by its absence on the matter: none other than the mighty Facebook itself.
Case of the Silent Giant
Facebook has been rather quiet in the Do Not Track discussions as of late, which is strange considering its clout. After all, it is home to the most popular online destination in the United States. A report by Experian Hitwise showed that in the month of January 2012, 1 in every 5 web pages viewed is on Facebook.com, and American users spent an average of 20 minutes on the site per visit
. All in all, the firm’s data revealed that Facebook represented 9% of internet traffic in the U.S. during the first 28 days of January. Throw in the more than 800 million users, and you have a major player totally immersed in the tracking issue - or so you would think.
The internet community is sitting with bated breath, waiting for the social giant to let everyone know where it stands moving forward with the Do Not Track initiative. It’s not like Mark Zuckerberg and the gang can hide - not with rivals like Google shining the spotlight their way. Back in February, to be exact, was when Google brought up how Facebook is using the Like button to manipulate a bug in internet Explorer that allowed the feature to track users. Even though Google was being grilled for its own questionable activities
, it was able to momentarily divert the attention in a different direction; specifically, in the way of Facebook.
Much to the chagrin of Google, Facebook shook off those claims with coolness, calmness and collectiveness. The company admitted that it was indeed using the very same Internet Explorer flaw that Google was alleged to have taken advantage of. That was the last anyone heard from Facebook on the matter as it vanished from the scene in the blink of an eye. Its quick dismissal no doubt left a bad taste in the mouths of rivals like Google as well as general spectators from the internet community.
No Way Out
Once again, the pressure is on for Facebook to step up and be a leader, and this time there may be no getting around it or shoving it onto the back burner. International privacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently called out the company and requested that it become more active in the Do Not Track discussions. The organization said it wants the social network to fall in line by giving users more control over how their personal information is collected.
Facebook returned with a response that expressed its willingness to cooperate and participate in the creation of privacy standards that better protect users, but at the same time, didn’t appear to say enough to satisfy the critics. Christopher Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union is among those who believe that even after the response, the company needs to get off its high horse of vagueness and get directly involved in the initiative that affects the livelihood of its users.
Fair or foul? Should Facebook get with the Do Not Track program, or is the social giant shouldering too much blame?