Richard Stallman: Facebook does massive surveillance

Richard Stallman has declared Facebook and Google+ are mistreating their users. Furthermore, he points out Facebook performs massive surveillance with its tracking cookies.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

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'."

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