We all love our beloved social networking site but it's really a business after all, isn't it? When companies are focused on their bottom line the customer becomes just a number and although we're being provided a service that we enjoy, we are unspoken pawns in a very large game of chess that goes way over our heads... Here's one scary cat that's no longer in the bag:

Most of us know that when you visit any site on your computer a cookie is stored on your computer that anonymously tracks your activity when you log on to a site. What you may not know is that when you visit a website, the company that owns it can see what page you're browsing, where you're from and what you click on on that page LIVE, in real time. What else you may not know is that Facebook has found a way to collect information from you, even if you're logged off and your computer is shut down.

Using "Facebook Connect," and other social plug-ins, Facebook is able to set up a cookie on any site that has a "Like" or "share" button, giving Facebook access to a startling amount of user information. Technically, the purpose of these plug-ins is to authenticate users, but it still has the ability to collect personal information such as the IP address of your computer, browsing data, outside login information, phone numbers, etc... The cookie, known as the "datr" cookie, has been a controversial topic for the past year. Using this cookie, among other things, Facebook knows what you have read on a web page even if you did not click the "like" button. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "for this to work, a person only needs to have logged into Facebook or Twitter once in the past month. The sites will continue to collect browsing data, even if the person closes their browser or turns off their computers."

Man, that's scary... And that's what we KNOW, think of what we don't! Of course the 'service' to us is when we specify our interests on Facebook it helps other like-minded users and real-life friends to get in touch with you not to mention personalizes your page from anyone else's. But every time you click that LIKE button, Facebook compiles that information to give to advertisers who would like to target you (where the money comes in.) So how do we protect ourselves from this advertising juggernaut while still enjoying being connected to everyone on Facebook?

There are a variety of programs available to us that can help us protect ourselves from all of the nasty behind-the-scenes gremlins, some of which you can pay for and others are free... The free one is called Do Not Trak Plus or DNT+ and is simply a little browser plug-in that is quick and easy to install. Another free plug-in that may interest you is called Ghostery whose name says it all, "we ain't fraida no ghosts!" Otherwise, your browser most likely already has basic security and privacy settings that can prevent sites from tracking you or planting cookies in your system. Click here for the walk-through. Frequently deleting internet cookies and browsing history can also help out and even optimize your system to run faster in the process.

Well, I hope I didn't scare you too much but I guess at the very least let's just make it our business to be more aware so we can protect ourselves because we most likely will not be made aware by a company with a financial motive that transcends what they're offering to us, the general public. But take heart, there are workarounds for everything, you just have to know where to look.  Happy surfing!

[Yahoo! Finance]