Patent Application Triggers Privacy Inquiry

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Facebook recently filed a Patent Application that Triggered a Congressional inquiry.  The patent application, which describes technology for tracking users on other websites,
resulted in a letter from Reps. Edward Markey, D- Mass., and Joe Barton,
R-Texas, seeking information on its current privacy practices and future intentions for tracking user activity and data. Markey and Barton co-chair the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus.

The application
was published on Sept. 22, 2011 and describes a method “for tracking information about the activities of users of a social networking system while on another domain.”

In the letter to facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Markey and Barton sought clarification on the purpose of the patent and how Facebook intends to use it. They also inquired about how Facebook intends to integrate the location data of its users into its targeted advertising system, noting that Facebook has previously stated that it does not track people across the Internet.

It is important to note that just because Facebook has filed a patent does not necessarily mean that they have commercially implemented what the patent discloses. However,  this action is just one of the latest from Washington focusing on privacy. There seems to be a very focused effort by legislators and regulators to ensure that companies only collect user information needed for legitimate business purposes and that the information collected is not retained indefinitely. 

As with many other aspects of social media, the laws and regulatory climate are continuing to evolve.  If you have not recently reviewed your data collection, privacy practices and privacy policies, now is a good time to do so.