Stopping those dang Facebook cookies in Firefox

26 Sep

And now for something completely different…

From somewhere in my twitter stream (possibly @glynmoody) I read http://nikcub-static.appspot.com/logging-out-of-facebook-is-not-enough. I’ve always been slightly bothered by Facebook, and the news about their new “features” seemed rather more scary. This is doubly so since I don’t really understand the implications, but I did remember seeing a working paper by Arnold Rosendahl [1] last year that was itself fairly scary. I would really quite like to get out of it altogether (and I rarely if ever post anything there), but there are a few people I care about who use it, and it would be hard to kep in touch without it. Anyway, I decided to further reduce my Facebook usage, exploring all the settings I could find.

Having done that, I checked my cookies (I used Safari as the default browser), and discovered cookies for facebook.com and facebook.net. I deleted them and thought that was that. Off I went for a walk. Back later, check twitter, only click on one link, to a Guardian article. Notice the Facebook cookie thing is still reverberating around my twitter stream, so I decide to check cookies again. Eeek, facebook.com and facebook.net are back! Well, it seems no matter what I do, I can’t keep facebook cookies out of Safari. One twitter contact suggested deleting all cookies at the end of every session, but I wasn’t sure of the implications of that.

Checking Firefox, I found some options that would block cookies from individual sites. I couldn’t find an equivalent option in Safari, even after a lot of searching. To cut a long story short, I decided to make Firefox my default browser, and to deny Facebook cookies. Another twitter contact asked me how this could be done, hence this post!

(BTW at least Safari and Firefox both allow you to see what cookies you have got in a reasonably understandable way. We have a XP machine with IE7, and all I can see there is an indigestible list of thousands of cookies in apparently random order!)

Now, the danger in what is below is that I don’t understand the implications of everything I’ve tried. So, your mileage may vary!

First, you may have Facebook cookies and be divulging information to Facebook, even if you don’t use it. You only have to visit a site which hosts a Facebook Like button! There are a lot of these; they are not explicit about what they are doing or its implications!

I’m using Firefox 6.0.2 on a Mac… Open Preferences, click on the Privacy tab. I have checked the box that says “Tell web sites I don’t want to be tracked” (but I don’t know what it does).

Under History, use Custom settings from the drop-down selection. I have un-checked Permanent Private Browsing mode, but the next 4 boxes are checked (3 remember history buttons, and accept cookies from sites). Of course, you can uncheck the latter, but quite a lot of things get hard if you do. Let’s leave the Exceptions button for the moment. I have also unchecked “accept 3rd party cookies”. I’ve got “Keep until” set to “ask me every time” (but it doesn’t seem to do that). I mentioned that a twitter contact sets his to delete at the end of every session (but remember that Firefox now keeps sessions open in case you want to resume them).

(Actually I realise that the Keep Until setting of Ask me every time explains why sites are now asking me if I will accept their cookies; a slightly different interpretation than I expected. I can deny, allow for session or allow for ever on an individual cookie basis.)

Now you should click on the Show Cookies button. Generally, it shows groups of cookies; you’ll probably see one for facebook.com and one for facebook.net. As an example, if you find the google.co.uk group, open the group, click through the list of cookies, and you’ll probably see that most of the cookies are expired (dates in the past). I have one google.co.uk cookie (SNID) with an expiry date in the future. You can remove individual cookies in this list, or the whole lot of them.

Back up the page a bit, click on the Exceptions button. Here you can specify a (exact) web address and either block or allow cookies from that site. I currently have developers.facebook.com and facebook.com set to be blocked, and a bunch of others allowed. I should possibly block facebook.net.

OK, that’s about all I know, and I don’t know the implications of this either! Good luck

[1] Roosendaal, A. (2010). Facebook Tracks and Traces Everyone: Like this! Tilburg. Retrieved from http://ssrn.com/abstract=1717563

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