Richard Stallman: Facebook does massive surveillance

Richard Stallman: Facebook does massive surveillance

Summary: Richard Stallman has declared Facebook and Google+ are mistreating their users. Furthermore, he points out Facebook performs massive surveillance with its tracking cookies.


Richard Stallman, creator of the GNU Project and founder of the Free Software Foundation, believes that companies like Facebook and Google aren't helping their users, but are in fact doing the exact opposite because of how they run their social networks. In an interview with RT, he briefly criticized both Facebook and Google+, but then underlined how the former has worse practices than the latter.

"[Facebook and Google+] mistreat the users," Stallman said. "For instance, by requiring users to give real names. That's a policy that puts some people in danger. So, you shouldn't use them. But Facebook does many other bad things as well."

It's worth noting that Google said it would revise Google+'s real name management policy, but then simply told those complaining: just don't use Google+. Facebook is very strict about its real name policy, although it does make exceptions, from time to time.

"Facebook does massive surveillance," Stallman continued. "If there is a Like button in a page, Facebook knows who visited that page. And it can get IP address of the computer visiting the page even if the person is not a Facebook user. So you visit several pages that have Like buttons and Facebook knows that you visited all of those, even if it doesn’t really know who you are."

Over the last few months, Facebook was accused multiple times of using cookies to track users even after they log out of the service, though it has since fixed the issues and explained how its system worked. For more information about how this story, the multiple follow-ups, and the ensuing PR disaster, please see the links below.

Stallman's allegations are similar to when WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called Facebook "the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented." Facebook responded by denying Assange's claims.

You can watch the Stallman interview, which discusses many issues beyond Facebook and Google+, above. I have contacted Facebook to see what the company has to say in response to Stallman's statements.

Update: "We use cookies to personalize content within social plugins (e.g. Show you what your friends liked), to help maintain and improve what we do (e.g. Measure click-through rate), or for safety and security (e.g. Keeping underage kids from trying to signup with a different age)," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "When a user logs out of Facebook, we delete the account-specific cookies (i.e. cookies that are associated with an individual account or user). As a result, we receive a more limited set of information when a logged-out user sees a social plugin. In addition, we do not associate the logged out data with the users’ account or the data we receive with they are logged in. The remaining cookies are used for safety and protection, including identifying spammers and phishers, detecting when somebody unauthorized is trying to access your account, helping you get back into your account if you get hacked, disabling registration for under-age users who try to re-register with a different birthdate, powering account security features such as 2nd factor login approvals and notification, and identifying shared computers to discourage the use of 'keep me logged in'."

See also:

Topics: Social Enterprise, Google

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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  • Stallman is totally irrelevant

    What he says or believes is of no interest to the 99%.
    • RE: Richard Stallman: Facebook does massive surveillance


      If what you mean is that 99% of the people do not care about their liberties, then I agree with you.
      Michael Kelly
      • Stallman doesn't care about liberties

        @Michael Kelly <br>Stallman is a media ***** (slang for prostitute). Nothing more.
      • RE: Richard Stallman: Facebook does massive surveillance

        @Michael Kelly, Stallman is intellectually lazy. I don't like to propose disruption or utopia without proposing practical alternative solutions or demonstrable and plausible justifications for any change of direction. <br><br>People like you are, in this sense, just like him. You say things should be this way or that way and if that makes the world a hopeless/degraded place for most people, precisely because your ideology is being enforced then, well, who cares.<br><br>Practical problems must be addressed and treated, not ignored or airbrushed away. We're smarter than that.
    • RE: Richard Stallman: Facebook does massive surveillance

      So, what does that makes you that 1%?
  • RE: Richard Stallman: Facebook does massive surveillance

    I think the phrase "No sh*t, Sherlock" applies here.

    Actually, Google+ is worse. Consider that if you enable G+ from an existing account, all of your email and pictures are now linked to that account. Contrast that with opening a Facebook account, which by default is completely empty. That's right, FACEBOOK IS COMPLETELY OPT-IN, while G+ starts with existing data. I created a second Gmail account to try out G+, simply for that reason.

    And please don't try the tired argument that people can post data about you on Facebook without your knowledge. Of course they can. They can on G+ as well, or on a web site, or in a blog, or in the comments section of ZDNet. And Google and Bing can find all that data.
    • Whose ox can we gore?

      True, but Google and Facebook are too big and too well entrenched to be put out of business by glory-seeking bloggers. So instead of "Outrage! To the barricades!" like we saw in the case of CarrierIQ, we get "Stallman, well-known crank, says..."
      Robert Hahn
    • RE: Richard Stallman: Facebook does massive surveillance

      @aep528 Facebook is not completely opt-in, they track you even if you don't have an account(or at least that's what I've heard very recently, that they have reactivated their tracking cookie thingy).<br><br>Also Facebook's database is wide open to the government, and in all likelihood is as well to any private party willing to pay the price.<br><br>Facebook is not better than G+. G+ is not better than Facebook.
  • RE: Richard Stallman: Facebook does massive surveillance

    Wow, soo many Facebook PR drones.
  • RE: Richard Stallman: Facebook does massive surveillance


    I added cool smileys to this message... if you don't see them go to:
  • Is RMS misquoted?

    Relevance of RMS (or his opinions) aside, he is wrong (or misquoted by this blogger) about one thing: Neither Google+ nor Facebook gives a hoot whether or not their users use their real names. They may both SAY that they do, in policies and in ULA's, but nothing is ever enforced, so in effect, on either network you can call yourself Pinocchio, son of Geppetto, and still post both true and false statements... Case in point is the RMS impostor on Facebook... 24,000+ "likes" to date...