Quick Hits: Groupon Explains “Always On” Location Tracking

In today’s Quick Hits, we talk about Groupon’s privacy policies, why one German official has a problem with Facebook, and a political candidate’s Facebook faux-pas.

Groupon Explains Location Privacy Policies

In response to Congressional inquiries about the company’s recently privacy policy changes, Groupon has issued a statement clarifying its stance on location tracking. Kashmir Hill at Forbes writes that Groupon “wants to start collecting location information from phones — even when the Groupon app is not on — in order to tell people about deals in their vicinity.” According to Groupon, this can only happen with a customer’s consent, but Congressmen Ed Markey and Joe Barton still warned the company not to violate user privacy.

German Privacy Watchdog Orders State Institutions to Shut Down Facebook Pages and “Like” Buttons

Claiming a violation of German and European Union data privacy laws, Thilo Weichert, Data Protection Commissioner for Schleswig-Holstein, “ordered state institutions to shut down [Facebook] fan pages…and remove the [Facebook] ‘Like’ button from their websites.” Facebook disputes Weicher’s allegations that the company tracks and stores user data for two years, but did admit that it accesses technical information about the user, such as an IP address. Weichert’s order demonstrates how Germany and the United States treat the subject of privacy.

Facebook Records Which Profiles You Visit the Most

Facebook collects a wide range of data on its users, but one of the more interesting things Facebook records is which profiles you visit the most. Zack Whittaker at ZDNet explains how this works, writing “Facebook uses a server-side script, loaded when you use the site, called first_degree.php. This acts as a ranking algorithm, likely to be based on those who you interact with, the profiles you visit, who you chat and communicate with and those who you have recently become acquainted with.  The higher the negative number, the more likely the person attached to it will display in Facebook’s autocomplete search — at the top of the window.”

Canadian Politician Apologizes for Facebook Jokes

A Canadian politician recently apologized for several off-color jokes on his Facebook profile, saying “If I could do it again, I probably wouldn’t have posted it.” The jokes, which were made prior to his decision to run for office, tried to shrug off the Facebook posts saying they represented his “taste in humor,” but acknowledged that they may have offended some. The candidate’s efforts to distance himself from his Facebook profile represent a new reality for politicians seeking election in the digital age.

Facebook Issues Security Guide for Teachers, Students, and Parents

In an effort to address concerns over security, privacy, and bullying, Facebook has published a free, 20-page guide titled “A Guide to Facebook Security.” PCWorld writes that “the pamphlet is available on the site and was co-written by security experts Linda McCarthy and Keith Watson, and editor and teacher Denise Weldon-Siviy.”

Quick Hits: Advertisers Turn to “Supercookies” for Online Tracking

In today’s Quick Hits, we talk about new online tracking technology that is nearly impossible to disable, why one mom thinks friending one’s children online is a bad idea, and how more and more people are using privacy controls on social networking websites.

Web Trackers Turn to Stealthy “Supercookies”

The Wall Street Journal reports that several major websites “have been tracking people’s online activities using powerful new methods that are almost impossible for computer users to detect.” These so-called “supercookies” are “capable of re-creating users’ profiles after people deleted regular cookies, according to researchers at Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley.” As more people become aware of the privacy ramifications of online tracking, the advertising industry is looking for ways to continue accessing valuable consumer information online. Currently, “supercookies” are legal, but that might change depending on whether Congress takes up anti-tracking legislation.

Florida Teacher Suspended for Anti-Gay Marriage Facebook Remarks

A Florida teacher, who was once named Teacher of the Year, has been suspended from the classroom after he compared gay marriage to a “cesspool” in a post on his Facebook page. The veteran educator is arguing that his suspension is unmerited because he made the comments on his personal page during his personal time. A school district investigation will determine whether to take additional action against the teacher.

Why You Shouldn’t Friend Your Teens Online

In an interesting article for The Daily Mail, Rachel Halliwell argues that parents shouldn’t friend their children on websites like Facebook, because, in her experience, it’s better to not know all of the things teens talk about online. Halliwell, who says she checked up on her daughter obsessively for a time, writes that “In the end I got so sick of worrying myself stupid about what they were up to that I deleted them all from my Facebook account — my own daughter included.”

Despite her decision to disconnect from her daughter online, Halliwell does acknowledge that social media has made adolescence much different. Quoting the article, “Our kids are the first generation of teens to have grown up with instant communication. They have no recollection of life before it. And however uncomfortable we adults feel with this set-up, there is no way to turn back the clock.”

Anonymous Facebook Attack Not Happening

Earlier in the month, a small faction of the hacker group Anonymous made headlines by declaring plans to take down Facebook on November 5th. Immediately, several representatives from Anonymous distanced the group from the operation, as tech writers questioned how a small group of hackers could take down Facebook in the first place. On Monday, someone managing the @Op_Facebook account tied to the operation posted a message saying “We Can’t Take Facebook Down…Yet” and calling the operation an awareness campaign. In other words, the operation is currently dead, but may return in the future.

More People Using Privacy Settings on Social Networks

According to a survey from Webroot security, people are becoming much more privacy-aware. Quoting TechCrunch, “between 2009 and 2011, Webroot says, the number of US social network users who have never viewed or changed their privacy settings plummeted from 37 percent in 2009 to 8 percent in 2011.” TechCrunch attributes the increase in privacy awareness to widespread publicity around privacy issues.