Two congressmen have accused Facebook of dodging questions about whether it tracks the activity of its 800 million members. On Monday, Representatives Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) questioned the reasoning behind a recent patent application by the site that suggests it may use information from its users for targeted advertisements.
The accusations stem from a letter sent to the congressmen (.PDF) last month from Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan that attempted to describe the purpose of the patent. Markey and Barton were left unassuaged by the letter, prompting their statement yesterday.
“The main questions of whether Facebook has considered using third-party tracking data to build user profiles or employs user-provided data to target advertising remain unanswered from the company’s response to our letter,” Markey said in a statement posted to his website.
Facebook’s response from December is riddled with numerous citations from the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who recently conducted and released an audit on the site. The Commissioner’s findings claim the site doesn’t track users online yet Reps. Markey and Barton claim that’s exactly what the patent is aiming to do.
“In the company’s response, it talks a lot about how they don’t currently ‘track’ users online, but they just asked for a patent that would allow them to do just that. Why ask for something you don’t ever plan on using?” asked Barton.
Facebook made headlines as 2011 drew to a close for finally settling with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over privacy issues. After two years of needling, the agency mandated in November that Facebook take the privacy of its users more seriously and submit the site to biennial audits.