Mark Zuckerberg is no stranger to controversy where Facebook is concerned. His first go at a social website drew charges from Harvard (where he was enrolled at the time), and Facebook itself famously endured copyright claims from alleged contributors shortly after its launch.
Privacy practices have haunted Facebook throughout its online life, and recently the FTC announced a settlement with Facebook that spells out significant areas of improvement required by the company, including scheduled privacy audits for the next 20 years. The settlement is similar to the FTC’s agreement with Google in the wake of privacy violations surrounding the now-defunct Buzz service. Google now operates Google+, a renovated approach to the social networking space.
Facebook boasts over 800 million users, and Google+ recently hit the 40 million user mark – so it’s no surprise that the FTC is concerned about the way data is collected and used on these sites. But as Ghostery users know – these services appear all over the web, not just at the facebook.com and plus.google.com domains. In fact, in our top 100 periodic table over at KnowYourElements.com, Facebook Connect (which is the product name for the “Like” button) ranks as the third most frequently encountered third-party element on the web, with Google+ coming in close behind at position #5.
These privacy concerns are not academic exercises from the FTC – even without visiting either facebook.com or plus.google.com, you’re likely to encounter elements from these sites almost seven times a day.
This graph shows how frequently our Ghostrank panel members encountered these social network elements since the beginning of the summer (Google+ began a phased release on June 28). There are a couple of very interesting facts to take away here:
- First, these numbers do NOT include encounters on the first-party domains. This means that like buttons on facebook.com and +1 buttons after every Google search result are not represented here – we’re talking only about the social network widgets seen on other sites across the web.
- On average, Ghostery users encountered over 250 like and +1 buttons in October, at a rate of 6.6 per day.
- In four short months, Google+ elements have grown to be nearly as proliferate as Facebook elements.
The FTC is clearly paying close attention to user privacy, and time will tell how their focus changes the practices of these companies (and other companies that rely on user data). Ghostery users don’t have to wait and see – they can directly manage their interactions with these elements (and over 700 others). You can download Ghostery for free, and consider agreeing to be part of our (totally anonymous) Ghostrank panel, which makes interesting insights like this possible.