Facebook Change Ensures Tracking by Preventing URL Stripping

Originally published at: Facebook Change Ensures Tracking by Preventing URL Stripping - TidBITS

If you use Brave or Firefox to protect your privacy from the social media sausage machine, note that Facebook has just changed its URL scheme to prevent privacy tools from stripping URL tracking parameters.

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I’m not all that surprised. And news articles like this just reinforce my decision to disconnect from FB many years ago.

Unfortunately, stripping off trackers sometimes can block access to content. There is at least one news web site I visit that does this. When I click through from a news aggregation site, the UTM parameter identifying the aggregator causes the site to pop up a box saying that I’m being allowed past the paywall for that one article, as a courtesy to the aggregation site. If I strip off the tracking tags, then the box says that I need a paid-up subscription to access it.

FB must really be getting desperate to be going to these lengths. I wonder how much they are losing because they based their entire business model on abusing their customers.

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I’ve noticed this myself. It seems that it should be possible, with a userscript or other plugin, to simulate a click on every encrypted link, capture the redirected URL, and rewrite the page with that. That would add a few seconds to page load (I’m guessing the perceived lag could be reduced using something like “lazy loading”), and would also reduce the value of click-tracking.

The biggest reason Facebook is in such a predicament to begin with is Apple:

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It’s not Apples fault I deleted the FB app off my phone 4 years ago, it’s Facebooks fault for being so invasive that even with all notifications turned off, the phone would still manage to light up when I received one.

Hopefully someone finds a way around it

Diane

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we encourage everyone to focus on real people in the real world and avoid social media like the corrosive pestilence that it is.

Hear, hear - Such tactics of hard embedding tracking features just confirmed my decision to delete my social media accounts after Facebook published that New York Times advertisement. I did not become less employable or sociable because I stopped using LinkedIn and Facebook - quite the contrary.

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Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any way to extract the tracking information, since it’s part of the actual URL for a page. For instance, here’s the link to this article’s stub on Facebook.

https://www.facebook.com/MacTidBITS/posts/pfbid02ngJz8knU7H4FNYSiW56choXrbs6xNuH32jtqRWJ9iJbAVqDdUKaDQtkckctYX4KAl

Load that and you’ll see that the URL doesn’t change—there’s nothing to rewrite.

I’m with Diane. Much as I’m glad that Apple is making life difficult for Facebook, I see absolutely no reason Facebook wouldn’t have done this anyway. It’s in the company’s DNA to exploit every possible way of extracting information about Internet users.

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Right, but that’s an internal Facebook link. I was thinking of outbound links, which also seem to have unfixable URL munging—I should have been clearer.

I must admit that as someone who uses Facebook only under duress, I find large chunks of the interface entirely inscrutable. So I’m not entirely sure of what the difference is between an internal Facebook link and an outbound link.

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The powers that be at Facebook were extraordinarily stupid to assume Apple, whose longtime commitment to privacy and security for users has been a longstanding and huge selling point for their services and hardware, would not launch another nuclear attack.

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There’s another ugly thing going on behind the scenes. At least some security systems rely on tracking information from Facebook and the like to identify who you are for purposes like accessing your bank or buying online. I discovered it a couple years back when struggling with unsolvable Captchas, but I’ve never seen it written up. By the way, this is not just the stuff on Facebook itself; tracking is very extensive.

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and avoid social media like the corrosive pestilence that it is.

Love the phrase corrosive pestilence. Perfect. Like many, I use faceplant because of family, but I hate the place. I long ago learned to copy url’s, paste them into my browser, strip backwards and try to open whatever page it is without the FB reference. Doesn’t always work, and I’ve started skipping those sites where I can’t strip away the FB tracking reference.

Thanks for the heads up.

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From the beginnings, I. knew FB was a bad deal. The first thing I delete on every new Apple device or disable is FB. Never used it and get along just fine without it.

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What is there to delete on a “new Apple device”? Apple never pre-installs any FB app or website to my knowledge.

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and avoid social media like the corrosive pestilence that it is.

But tell us how you really feel.

I appreciate the many informative articles I’ve read on Tidbits for decades now but was disappointed by this comment at the end of this one.

For me, personally, Social Media has allowed me to connect and re-connect with people personally and deeply from all over the world in a manner I never would have had the opportunity to do so if these platforms didn’t exist.

Despite any platform’s need for change including legitimate concerns about privacy and data, writing off an entire genre of how literally billions of people in the world connect with each other is not the kind of commentary I’m looking for on Tidbits.

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I mostly keep FB in a ‘deactivated’ state, re-logging in every now and then to check on some language learning communities I’m in that don’t seem able to communicate any other way, sadly.

It’s a moderate pain to reactivate and deactivate, but after doing it routinely for so long, I’ve got it pretty streamlined; and it turns out to be a really nice amount of discouragement re checking FB too often. (Pro-tip: When deactivating and they ask for reason, always click “Other” and then just type in some random letters…that way you don’t get suggestions for improving your experience.)

OTOH, maybe the deactivated state doesn’t help much in terms of privacy protection. I dunno…

Sorry, but that’s precisely how I feel, and the problems with social media go far, far beyond issues with privacy and data use to cut at the very underpinnings of civil society and democracy. Sure, there are positive aspects to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but there are positive aspects to toxic waste dumps too.

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I’m with you…deleted my personal FB account long ago. Bride and I have a travel blog and there is an almost info free profile for the blog but I log in and out of FB when necessary and essentially never check it. I do have a twitter account but follow very few people and rarely post anything myself. I stay logged out of google and YouTube even though the latter makes it impossible to subscribe to channels but I just live with that inconvenience. Don’t use google for search at all since they track you as well even if logged out…I use startpage.com instead as they privatize requests and then send that to google before returning results.

You really cannot stay private and use the internet anyway…all one can do is minimize as much as possible your exposure and never, ever, click on an advertising link in a browser and use ad/tracking blockers…they limit your ability to see some sites of course but that’s another side effect.

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The world is flat.

Tobacco smoking is good for your health.

The planets in our solar system revolve around the earth.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy is alive and well and was never assassinated.

Apollo 11 never landed on the moon and American Astronauts never walked on on the moon.

Throughout history, false information has continually spread like wildfire. And here’s just a few very recent and compelling examples of why social media, and Facebook in particular, continue to spread disinformation, hatred, and can deliver calls to action that are detrimental to society:

Whistle-Blower to Accuse Facebook of Contributing to Jan. 6 Riot;

Amid The Capitol Riot Facebook Faced Its Own Insurrection:

And my many and sincere thanks to Adam and the gang, as well at to all TidBITS Talkers, for all the good advice, information and comradeship that’s always available here.

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At a personal level, I see a conflict of interest between my intention of using social media vs. interests of those social media companies.

Like most people, I want to use social media to keep in contact with family and friends around the world and connect with people with similar interests. However, providing such online services to me cost money, and there is no free lunch - someone has to pay for it.

I think it would be laughable to suppose that Facebook or any other social media operators care deeply about enabling me to connect with family and friends. (Perhaps that can be true when a service is new - after all how many business are started with bad intentions?) As the business expands providing such connection increasingly becomes cost of doing business; what drives social media companies are primarily our attention, our clicks and the resulting profit to other businesses - those who pay social media companies in exchange for our attention.

I resent such ‘indirect’ business models and conflict of interest. I understand that providing such services cost money, and am willing and able to pay for it in exchange for a plain vanilla service, without detriment to my data, attention and well being. However, with few exceptions this is not possible in the largest social media platforms.

I suppose this is one of many reasons I purchase Apple products. They are not inexpensive, but at least there are reasons to believe that Apple is amply compensated and there is less incentive for them to do anything funny with my data and attention. The alignment of interest is not perfect (planned obsolescence?), but at least it is there.

I make it a point to subscribe to and financially support businesses/creators whose contents I value, such as The Economist and TidBITS. With enough support we can even unlock the commons so the content becomes public good and one does not have to pay to enjoy it. I like such simple and transparent business models much better.

(May I also take this opportunity to thank @ace and friends for publishing TidBITS. Please don’t become another social media company!)

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