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Facebook encrypts links and thus bypasses tracking protection

Facebook encrypts links and thus bypasses tracking protection

Web browsers like Firefox provide an optional tracking blocker for users to protect themselves against prying companies. Firefox, for example, has also added the Enhanced Tracking Protection feature in version 102. Facebook apparently circumvents the measures simply by encrypting links.

Enhanced Tracking Protection removes certain parameters from track-only URLs. The mode setting can be found under “Privacy and security” under “Enhanced protection against activity tracking”. The feature is also active in Firefox’s private mode.

It seems that Facebook does not want to accept this legitimate interest of the user. Social media URLs contain putative tracking parameters encoded in a mass of data that is quite incomprehensible.

Where there used to be a clear link with parameters added by question marks, there is now just a long character string that encodes more information, eg https://www.facebook.com/heiseonline/posts/pfbid07pfeGxMx6FpLZ5WvvGLLzLrxwSLddkXrCPz6DVUV1usRZDimAfvmJm3pjEEp3ifMl. Without knowing the encryption, the information hidden in it cannot be tracked or leaked.

An anonymous Facebook spokesperson told the GHacks blog that it wasn’t the removal of parameters by the web browser that prompted the company to take this step. URL encryption is intended much more as protection against so-called scrapers that might otherwise collect and misuse Facebook IDs. Modified IDs would not be used to track users.

At least the timing of the change in Facebook’s link structure was very close to the new Firefox feature. Since URL encryption is unknown, users must trust Facebook to tell the truth here. This cannot be independently verified at this time.

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In the past, however, larger corporations that make money primarily from collecting user data have shown that tracking protection is not desirable. Last year, Google banned the popular Chrome browser plugin ClearURLs, which did something similar to Firefox Enhanced Tracking Protection, from the Chrome Web Store. However, the company also claimed to have other reasons for the removal.


(DMK)

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