Commentary

Facebook Names Privacy Advocate Public Policy Director

In the last 18 months, Facebook has brought one privacy mess after another upon itself.

Misfires include the ill-fated Beacon ad program (which told members about their friends' off-site purchases), the procedures to delete profiles (some members found it nearly impossible to expunge information they had uploaded) and the recent terms-of-service fiasco (Facebook appeared to have claimed perpetual license for all material in a recent policy revision).

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It's not clear why the company has misread user sentiment so badly, but obviously management's instincts about the members have been off.

Now, in a move apparently aimed at preempting more privacy fiascos, Facebook has tapped ACLU senior attorney Timothy D. Sparapani to serve in the newly created role as director of public policy, The New York Timesreports.

Jeff Chester, who heads the privacy group Center for Digital Democracy, called Sparapani "an honorable and skillful lobbyist and privacy advocate."

"It's a smart move on their part," Chester said of Facebook's decision. "In some ways, it's like bringing a potential critic in-house."

Of course, plenty of other critics -- including Chester himself -- show no signs of letting up on the company. Just this week, the Center for Digital Democracy complained that Facebook's new proposed principles don't go far enough to protect users' privacy.

"In all of the principles, the wording allows enough legal wiggle room for Facebook to ignore them completely," the group said in written comments sent to Facebook this week.

The Center for Digital Democracy also says Facebook needs to elaborate on how it will share information about users with outsiders. "Users need to know how third-party developers use the data accessed or collected, including how the data is used for advertising and marketing," the group wrote.

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