November 18, 2013

Facebook Plans to Track Your Cursor Movements

by with 8 comments

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How much does Facebook know about us? The amount may be increasing. Image from

The most popular social networking site, Facebook, already has a huge amount of user data to begin with. Even so, the company wants to know more about its users. According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is testing a brand new technology that would allow it follow user’s mouse movements on the social networking site. With the new cursor tracking technology the company can figure out where we click, where we pause, where we hover, and for how long. The biggest driving force behind implementing the cursor tracking technology is to track how long a user’s cursor hovers over revenue generating ads.

Ken Rudin, the analytics chief for Facebook, revealed to The Wall Street Journal, “The social network may start collecting data on minute user interactions with its content, such as how long a user’s cursor hovers over a certain part of its website, or whether a user’s  News Feed is visible at a given moment on the screen of his or her mobile phone.” Facebook may start collecting data based on your interactions with the content of the website. As mentioned earlier, it will collect information such as how long your cursor hovers over a particular part of its website or whether your news feed is visible at a given moment on your mobile phone’s screen. Then store all this captured information in a data analytics warehouse and make sure that you are getting targeted ads related to the stuff you hover your cursor the most. Basically, Facebook collects two kinds of data – demographic and behavioral. The demographic data include information beyond the network like where you live or went to school.  The behavioral data that is captured real time on your network like your “Friends” on Facebook or “Likes”. The ongoing test will mainly focus on the behavioral data that is collected. “Facebook should know in the coming months whether incorporating the new data collection makes sense for a slew of uses, be it product development or more precise targeting of ads”, Rudin said.

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Here are the companies most interested in user behavior. Image from

Media, advertisers and social networks have been tracking your Internet behavior for web analytics for a long time. Back in 2011, Microsoft came up with an easy way to use the cursor movement to understand and improve search results. “The researchers developed a technique to track the gaze direction of an unlimited number of remote users’ attention on any website, with nothing but a standard web browser. They accomplished this feat (pdf) with a single Javascript that weighs in at less than 1k and can be run invisibly on any page without slowing its load time or your browser’s performance”. As per their innovation they can track where your cursor is at a given time. It seems there is a correlation between what we look on the web pages and where we place our cursor. Therefore tracking cursor movements give more information about search results than simple click data.

Facebook is not the only company planning to track users based on their cursor movement. Shutterstock Inc, a marketplace for digital images, records everything that its user does on the website. It uses open source Hadoop distributed file systems to track and analyze user data such as where do they place their cursor or how long do they hover over a particular section on the site before making a purchase. Facebook also uses a modified version of Hadoop to manage large volumes of data. The data that is in the analytics of the warehouse is separate from the company’s user data and has not been disclosed yet. The marketers can use this data for targeted advertising, provided the data become accessible to them. However this new data mining experiment of Facebook is still in its testing phase and Facebook is still evaluating how it can be valuable to the company. Rudin himself pointed out that collection of massive amounts of data would not help Facebook unless it can figure out how to make use of it.

Amidst PRISM revelations and issues with Facebook’s privacy policy, introduction of the cursor tracking technology can raise a lot of security questions regarding privacy and security of Facebook users.

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  1. “the cursor tracking technology is to track how long a user’s cursor hovers over revenue generating ads” HAHAHAHA, good joke facebook. Why the heck would you need to know where our mouse hovers, even if its over an ad, for any realistic reason????

    I bet if there was a way to tap into our webcams/cameras on our laptops or phones, they would say they are doing it to measure where our eyes are gazed for a certain length of time, for ad revenue of course. This is getting ridiculous.

    At this rate, we are basically agreeing to use the internet/pc by signing over ALL privacy at all times. That would be like you being forced to wear goggles outside to see what you stare at…. really now???

    And I bet SpiderOak Blue has all the right intentions of starting a cloud service that is “secure”… but anything on the cloud is accessible to outside attacks. The cloud is one of the most INSECURE things out there.. your data is just floating around, waiting to be collected.

  2. Wow, I already am afraid of facebook and their privacy. They always have issues with privacy that I cannot stand. I might have to delete it if they start doing this.

  3. Really?! I knew that Facebook had something up their sleeves and now it has come to light. I don’t understand why they would do this as that is an invasion of our privacy. All of the general public needs to know about this.

  4. The courteous behavior for Facebook would be to:

    1) Ask permission to track the user’s cursor with a statement of how much the user will be paid for the data mining.

    2) Have an on-screen indicator that one’s cursor is being tracked.

    3) Have a meter for how much the user is being paid by the second for being tracked.

    Data mining has made the owners of Facebook into billionaires and millionaires.

    If one is being data mined, one should be paid to compensate for the loss of privacy.

  5. I find this tracking behavior by Facebook to be so invasive, and surprising considering how frequently they’ve already come under fire for collecting too much information from their users. Not to mention the privacy issues that have been plaguing Facebook over the years. (I’m assuming this cursor-tracking will cause their privacy policies and settings to change yet again as well. Joy!)

    Cursor-tracking technology really smacks of keylogging to me, so I’m genuinely surprised that something like this is being not only seriously developed, but is also spreading (if not already implemented) to other websites. Is nothing personal and private anymore? Sometimes I long for the pre-millennial days of the Internet, when social networks were niche-specific forums, and the only thing we needed to be mindful of was clearing the cookies from our respective browser’s cache from time to time. Nowadays, it feels like even with incognito browsing or similar, we can scarcely do *anything* online without being monitored, logged, watched, etc by Big Brother.

  6. Facebook is evil period. They have constantly ignored the privacy of their users and sold them down the road to thousands of third party companies…wake up people! This is how Facebook makes their money by using you and disregarding your privacy.

  7. As an avid user of Facebook and my addiction/need to use it for my personal and business life, facts like these always make me nervous! I can only assume that Facebook is utilizing far more of my information than I would ever be comfortable with, and my security settings help me to feel a bit better about it, but in the really big picture, just what Facebook is doing in terms of tracking my usage is quite disturbing, and bothersome. Personally if they want to track what my mouse hovers over thats not a big deal to me, but if they really do start tracking more of the personal details of my life and this fact comes out to the public, Im afraid I would have to cancel my account. Sad I must say!

  8. I am unfortunately not surprised when I hear anything that Facebook plans to do. The company knows that the world is already “dependent” on Facebook and that they can do whatever they want and people aren’t going to stop using their website.

    Honestly, I don’t really care too much, if they want to track what I’m doing, fine. I’m not looking at anything I’m ashamed of so go for it.

    It’s not like we aren’t being watched by others anyway. A sad truth…