Douglas Crets

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Giving Credibility to the Shadow Education System

The Only Way Facebook Would Reveal an FTC Investigation: Filing an IPO

Image representing Nik Cubrilovic as depicted ...

Nik Cubrilovic Image via CrunchBase

I had a phone call with someone who works for the Federal Trade Commission this week.   The phone call revealed the following about any potential FTC investigation into Facebook’s alleged privacy infringements:

The onus is on a non-public company to reveal that there is any ongoing investigation, or that there was any investigation being conducted by the FTC.

The source said, “If we have an investigation, it’s non-public. I can neither confirm or deny that we do.  Publicly held companies have to file documentation. That’s the most common way they disclose these kind of things.”

The typical way that the public is informed of any investigation is through that company’s registering of their IPO with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Facebook delayed its IPO until late 2012. Without an IPO registration, the public has no way of knowing if there is a privacy investigation ongoing, or if one has been concluded. It is unlikely that Facebook will confirm or deny these allegations.

In the interest of balanced reporting, I have tried repeatedly to contact Facebook for comments on many stories, including this one. I have not heard back from anyone in their press office. I most recently sent emails to their press office, while I was working for ReadWriteWeb. I no longer work or write stories for that blog, so I have sent another request to Facebook for comment on this. Facebook has so far not returned any requests for public comment.

LA Times stories point out these privacy concerns and others like it,with the most recent focused on the use of tracking cookies. These were first discovered and written about by an Australian tech blogger named Nik Cubrilovic.  After what he explained as months of trying to get Facebook to pay attention to his claims, he was able to get Facebook to fix one tracking cookie that kept track of everything a user did outside of Facebook, simply by writing the aforementioned blog post. Two days later, a Facebook spokesperson explained it away as a “bug” to the cookie software.  Mainstream media swallowed this, but now with this new Arrington post, questions surface again.

In Arrington’s post, he reveals that Facebook has had two different positions on tracking user activity. In public, it has said that it is not interested in doing so. In a patent application, Facebook is apparently applying for a patent for the methodology that does exactly that.

What really is going on with Facebook? Wasn’t the intention all of the time to track user behavior? Facebook is not a public company, and like all private companies, their business deals, financials, and internal decision making has a very low wattage bulb by which the public can illuminate the dark. How are we to know the real intention behind tracking behavior? Was the tracking cookie really a mistake fixed with poor public relations reactions? Or, is there something more there, disguised by public relations spin?

It is worth noting that Amazon’s new Silk browser for the Kindle Fire does something similar. Facebook is different. Everything resembling people’s private information is housed there, including links to family members, and social behavior. Maybe that is what gets people worried and drives this news story.

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