Facebook offers privacy from marketers

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Facebook offers privacy from marketers

Site to remove user IDs from referral URLs shared with advertisers.

Facebook has given its users more privacy from marketers by removing their IDs from the referral URLs it shares with advertisers.

The move fulfils a promise made a few days ago when it was found that Facebook had been allowing advertisers access to its users' personal data.

It is normal practice for web firms to give advertisers address page details from which users click on adverts, but the URL cannot normally be traced back to an individual.

However, social networks such as Facebook and MySpace tend to personalise URLs on users' pages, allowing advertising agencies to access the profile ID numbers of those who click on their adverts.

Advertising companies could potentially track down personal details about the individual, such as age and interests, depending on how much profile information the user has decided to make public.

The actions appear to show a flagrant disregard for the terms and conditions in which social networks promise not to share user information with advertisers without prior consent.

"In a rarely occurring case, advertisers knowledgeable about the structure of Facebook's URLs could use the referrer to determine when someone who clicked on an ad had been viewing his or her own profile, thus potentially enabling them to infer the user ID of that person," said Facebook engineer Matt Jones in a blog post.

"We have no reason to believe that any advertisers were exploiting this, and doing so would have been a violation of our terms. To our knowledge, none did."

Facebook claimed that the changes were not made as a result of reports in the press. "We have been working for the past few months on this change," Jones said.

The modification is live for the Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera browsers, and will be coming soon to Internet Explorer.

"We are confident that this new change, along with our earlier fix, goes beyond industry standards to further protect your privacy," Jones said.

In related news, Facebook has announced that it will roll out "drastically simplified" privacy controls tomorrow, according to reports from the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York.

The announcement was made by Chris Cox, vice president of products at Facebook, although it is hardly unexpected given all the statements Facebook has recently made to the press about enhancing its privacy settings.

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