While the consensus following two days of congressional testimony was that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg avoided inflicting further damage to the social media company’s reputation, he did leave several questions unanswered.
Controversy surrounding Facebook’s use of data it obtains about individuals who are not even using the site was the subject of one question Zuckerberg could not completely answer during questioning on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
Product Management Director David Baser wrote the response this week, promising to explain when and why Facebook gathers data about individuals who are not using the platform.
The article cited a few broad situations in which the company obtains browser information outside of direct interaction with the site.
“There are three main ways in which Facebook uses the information we get from other websites and apps: providing our services to these sites or apps; improving safety and security on Facebook; and enhancing our own products and services,” Baser wrote.
Before expounding on each category, he reiterated a common refrain from Zuckerberg and other company executives.
“We don’t sell people’s data,” Baser wrote. “Period.”
The first category of data collected helps provide specific Facebook services, he explained.
Among those services are plugins and login features used on other websites and apps, analytics data used by external sites, and feedback to Facebook advertisers.
The second use of such information is to maintain the site and user security, he wrote.
“For example, receiving data about the sites a particular browser has visited can help us identify bad actors,” Baser wrote. “If someone tries to log into your account using an IP address from a different country, we might ask some questions to verify it’s you.”
This feature also allows Facebook to determine if “a browser has visited hundreds of sites in the last five minutes” or exhibits other behavior associated with a bot.
Finally, Baser described the company’s use of data obtained outside of the site to improve existing products and services provided to users.
“So if you visit a lot of sports sites that use our services, you might see sports-related stories higher up in your News Feed,” the press release explained. “If you’ve looked at travel sites, we can show you ads for hotels and rental cars.”
Baser ended with a nod toward transparency, writing that Facebook has made its user agreement easier to understand and emphasizing that it requires websites to inform users when they use these data-collection tools.
He explained that Facebook users can disable each of the features described in the article, though tacitly acknowledging that the process required to do so can be complicated.
“Whether it’s information from apps and websites, or information you share with other people on Facebook, we want to put you in control — and be transparent about what information Facebook has and how it is used,” he wrote. “We’ll keep working to make that easier.”
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