ADOTAS – When the news first broke, some commentators suggested that Facebook would try and pin the blame for its recent user ID (UID) giveaway through applications on a smaller third party. The social network got lucky that The Wall Street Journal turned its sites on RapLeaf, a data collector that builds user profiles with real names and email addresses.
RapLeaf did send UIDs to data purchasers, though it claims that was unknowingly. The company has come to an agreement with Facebook to back off the social platform and delete UIDs it collected — at quite a cost to its business, I imagine. Facebook has developed a technical solution for keeping UIDs anonymous that will be a requirement for applications come the beginning of next year.
To top it off, the company added anonymous identifiers to the protected category of Facebook data that can’t be brokered. Less than a dozen small developers that were selling UIDs have received a six-month ban from the site and will have to undergo a rigorous audit to get back on the platform.
Facebook’s snafu awakened a great deal of concern over online data collecting, and I don’t think I can describe it better than columnist Brandt Dainow — the tracking industry has been overzealous and its chickens are coming home to roost.
But The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of this space has alternated between hysterical and confusing — it doesn’t help consumers understand how tracking works if the voice of authority is reminiscent of Chicken Little. Instead of straightforward explanations, the “What They Know” series has been fueled by paranoia. And personally I can’t believe the paper has included no discussion of perfectly legal offline tracking practices as a point of reference. Nope, Rupert Murdoch’s publication wanted to scare the willies out of you.
The effect — we have our villain: RapLeaf. After learning an important lesson in respecting the little people, Facebook has kicked RapLeaf off its system. And they all lived happily ever after — a convenient media narrative.
This story is nowhere close to over, especially because there’s a dearth of leadership regarding tracking best practices. As a Federal Trade Commission member suggested that the agency was leaning toward industry self-regulation in an upcoming report on behavioral targeting, you gotta wonder if that’s going to be enough to convince the browsing public that the Internet is not a surveillance state.