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Facebook Privacy and Policy – Summary of the Mess

Communication Concepts

May 12th, 2010

This is going to be a mini-post, the simple purpose of which being to aggregate some of the more telling articles I’ve found discussing Facebook and its recent policy changes. I don’t like sensationalism and I don’t like hype, but some of Facebook’s recent decisions have been downright disturbing. I hope you will take the time to read through the articles posted here and form your opinions based on all the facts at hand.

My first inkling of any problems came with the Google engineer protest. After Facebook announced their decision at F8 to make user data accessible to third party sites by default, many high profile people from Google left the social media giant. Obviously people working for Google have a bit of a conflict of interest, but their stand got people talking. Soon, Google employees weren’t the only high profile individuals shutting down their accounts.

Next, I ran across this article about changes to Facebook profile linking practices. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), leader in digital consumer rights advocacy, also posted a short and telling summary of these new changes. Facebook decided to begin interlinking everything posted on a user’s profile with pages throughout its sites and make that information available across the Web. If you type the name of your school, Facebook will link that text to a page with your school’s name – even if there is another school on Facebook with the same name that you never attended. It even adds some connections automatically based on “likes”. Apparently, the only way to opt out of this auto linking is to remove the data from your profile; and even then, Facebook will remember the information. Cre8pc rightly called this “the most obscene, bizarre gesture of blatant disregard for users I’ve ever witnessed.”

The drama continued. According to PCWorld, in late April the Electronic Privacy Information Center along with 14 other consumer protection groups lodged a formal complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission over the various privacy violations the company was committing. The EFF also began to take serious interest. It posted an article detailing the clear degradation of Facebook privacy rights since its inception, as well as one explaining just what Facebook’s policy changes mean to the end user. (When a bug allowed users to view the private chats of others right in the middle of the controversy, Facebook opponents had a field day.) Gizmodo published a clear summary of its complaints against Facebook with an article titled “Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook“, followed shortly thereafter by a follow-up post, “More Reasons Why You Should Still Quit Facebook“.

One of the biggest problems with the privacy issues is how difficult it is to set your privacy options. NY Times posted this infographic illustrating the confusing process for setting Facebook privacy options.

After nearly a month of hubub, public policy VP Elliot Schrage finally responded to user complaints with a promise to “do better”. “Clearly,” he said, “we need to rethink the tempo of change and how we communicate it. Trust me. We’ll do better.”

Updates:

I’m not an impartial observer, here. I’m truly disturbed by the moves Facebook is making and the disregard it is showing its users, even as it inserts itself deeper into the Web and becomes harder to simply walk away from. Please, add your thoughts and any links you think would be valuable to the discussion in the comments below.

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