CA: Facebook's Beacon more intrusive than previously thought

A CA security researcher is sounding the alarm that Facebook's controversial Beacon online ad system goes much further than anyone has imagined in tracking people's web activities outside the popular social networking site.

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A CA security researcher is sounding the alarm that Facebook's controversial Beacon online ad system goes much further than anyone has imagined in tracking people's web activities outside the popular social networking site.

Beacon will report back to Facebook on members' activities on third-party sites that participate in Beacon even if the users are logged off from Facebook and have declined having their activities broadcast to their Facebook friends.

That's the finding published on Friday by Stefan Berteau, senior research engineer at CA's Threat Research Group in a note summarising tests he conducted.

Of particular concern is that users aren't informed that data on their activities at these sites is flowing back to Facebook, nor given the option to block that information from being transmitted, Berteau said in an interview.

"It can happen completely without their knowledge, unless they are examining their network traffic at a very low level," Berteau said.

The CA news comes after Facebook scrambled last week to tweak Beacon in order to calm complaints from privacy groups and Facebook users that the ad system is too intrusive and too confusing to opt out of.

Beacon is a major part of the Facebook Ads platform that Facebook introduced with much fanfare several weeks ago. Beacon tracks certain activities of Facebook users on more than 40 participating websites, including those of Blockbuster and Fandango, and reports those activities to the users' set of Facebook friends, unless told not to do so.

Off-Facebook activities that can be broadcast to one's Facebook friends include purchasing a product, signing up for a service and including an item on a wish list.

The program has been blasted by groups such as MoveOn.org and by individual users who have unwittingly broadcast information about recent purchases and other Web activities to their Facebook friends. This has led to some embarrassing situations, such as blowing the surprise of holiday presents.

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