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1/6/2014
02:10 PM
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Facebook Denies Collecting Unpublished Posts

Facebook says that it doesn't read or store posts you don't publish. Posts you do publish are far more valuable.

You've been there before. Maybe it was a fleeting observation or a comment you decided was better left unsaid. Whatever the reason, you decided not to hit Post after typing a status update or a comment on a friend's photo.

Reports swirled last month that Facebook was spying on its users by collecting these unpublished posts. The social network addressed concerns over the weekend by saying it does not save the content of these messages.

In December, a Facebook data scientist and a former company intern published a report on the topic of self-censorship among Facebook users. The researchers examined 3.9 million Facebook users over a 17-day period and found that 71% of users "self-censored" at least once. These users reportedly typed posts, status updates, or comments but deleted the text instead of publishing them.

[Facebook botched some changes in 2013. What will this year bring? Read 7 Facebook Wishes For 2014.]

According to the report, content was tracked only if the user typed at least five characters. Identifiable information was not linked to the activity of users who were tracked. "Content of self-censored posts and comments was not sent back to Facebook's servers: Only a binary value that content was entered at all."

Charlene Li, partner and founder of Altimeter Group, told us that shouldn't concern users. "Facebook wants to know what it is that encourages and discourages people to post and what the tipping points are that make users start writing, then stop," she said. "For example, whether it's something in the user interface." Nevertheless, an online petition calls for Facebook to put an end to the practice and says its actions are a breach of privacy. The petition has amassed more than 28,000 signatures.

Facebook has said it is no longer tracking users' unpublished posts, though the technology to do so is reportedly still available. Tracking users, such as in this instance, is covered by Facebook's Data Use Policy. "We receive data about you whenever you use or are running Facebook, such as when you look at another person's timeline, send or receive a message, search for a friend or a Page, click on, view or otherwise interact with things," the social network says in the section "Information we receive and how it is used."

You can rest assured that your unpublished Facebook content is safe for now, but if you're still feeling squeamish, you can opt to turn off JavaScript for your browser to prevent subsequent tracking. If you do so, other websites may not work properly.

"The fact is that if you're posting to Facebook, the actual posts themselves have so much more meaning and value to Facebook," Li said. "That's what's really important to them -- your relationships, your comments -- those are how Facebook learns more about your interests. If users are uncomfortable with that, then [tracking unpublished posts] is the least of your worries."

Senior editor Kristin Burnham covers social media, social business, and IT leadership and careers for InformationWeek.com. Contact her at Kristin.Burnham@ubm.com or follow her on Twitter: @kmburnham.

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Kristin Burnham
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Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2014 | 2:40:57 PM
Your data and your perspective
While Altimeter Group's Li said you shouldn't worry about Facebook tracking your unpublished posts, users are automatically uneasy when it comes to companies owning their information -- whether it's something they give up willingly or unknowingly.

Readers: How has your stance on the information you're willing to give up in return for a service changed over the last several years? Are you more lenient or more cautious?
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2014 | 3:41:19 PM
Re: Your data and your perspective
I barely use Facebook. I maintain an account there mainly to communicate with friends who aren't tech-savvy.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
1/6/2014 | 5:54:54 PM
Ooops ...
I'll  bet that report writer never foresaw the firestorm. Just goes to show, no good deed goes unpunished.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2014 | 7:35:16 AM
unpublished activities
They may not be actively tracking unpublished posts but I bet they are paying attention to who's pages you are checking out, which links you are following and how often you check out a fan page or read an individuals posts.  That type of data is very worth tracking for them in order to drive advertising your way.
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
1/7/2014 | 9:13:43 AM
Re: unpublished activities
@SaneIT yes, the metadata that reveals so much about us. Even without knowing what we've written, knowing whom we connect with, like, follow, etc. gives them quite a detailed profile that they can sell to marketers. 
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
1/8/2014 | 7:23:25 AM
Re: unpublished activities
When we talk about metadata on social media sites I always think about the apps that I see for catching "cheating spouses" or that show you who is "stalking" your profile.  There is a real interest in who is looking at specific sites and profiles so I don't think we'll ever escape the collection of that data but it does make me wonder what FB is doing with it.  One thing I've seen that disturbs me a bit is that individuals who have become good at social engineering have become vigilantes on social media sites.  While the end result does sound like a good thing in some cases when I look at it their main goal seems to be extortion not so much protecting anyone else.
OtherJimDonahue
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OtherJimDonahue,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/8/2014 | 10:43:36 AM
But on the downside...
Facebook does, however, suck time out of your day.
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