Facebook: track & block

Facebook tracks users’ activities. This something they are really good at. First they introduced us the like button. As we know it tracks us around the web even if we do not click it. It is enough that the site is connected to Facebook with like button. Facebook calls its tracking system as Open Graph protocol. The idea is to make web more social. We have seen the next step of this evolution; Facebook will track the user’s activities and post them to user’s Facebook page autonomously and automatically. While social media has been seen as a dual platform for users actively sharing content and passively providing data for corporations we are now moving towards a digital environment that reduces the user to merely a passive content/data provider. Facebook calls this ‘serendipity’ and ‘frictionless sharing’.

Alexander Galloway has argued that the founding principle of the internet is control, not freedom. The controlling power lies in technical protocols that make network connections possible. Arguably the openness in the name of the Open Graph implies both the internet being open for the user and the user being open for the corporation itself. Now this is a mode of social networking that does not please everyone.

As a consequence, there are few interesting methods to correspond to this control:

  • Heise introduced “Two Clicks for More Privacy” for websites. The concept is simple. The Facebook button in the site is inactive until it is activated by clicking. A second click is needed to send the recommendation to Facebook servers.

There are also several extensions that try to reveal tracking and block it:

  • Ghostery “tracks the trackers and gives you a roll-call of the ad networks, behavioral data providers, web publishers, and other companies interested in your activity”.
  • Facebook Blocker ” is a tiny Addon that blocks the flow of information from third-party sites to Facebook, but still lets you use Facebook itself and even the “I like”-Button. The only difference is that your data in _only_ submitted, if you click this button, and not on each and every pageload.”
  • Disconnect.me is an extension that “blocks online tracking by major third parties and search engines”.

Interestingly, these extensions offer a passive rather than active form of resistance. It reminds us of the death of Bartleby the Scrivener in Herman Melville’s short story whose refusal “I would prefer not to” resulted in the end in isolation from the surrounding environment and death by starvation. By using these extensions the user cedes power to Facebook but retains the power to withhold. “I like your site, I like to use it, but I prefer not to recommend it, ‘like’ it or even show that I was there.”

Now the question of course is, what are the expenses of using these blockers? Will they for example drop us from the evolution / revolution of the next web?

(n.b. if you know more of these similar sites please throw me a comment!)

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