Commentary

Facebook Flops Again With Updated Privacy Policy

Another privacy policy, another misfire for Facebook.

As part of supposed improvements to its service, starting today Facebook is asking all users to review and update their privacy settings. But that's not all that Facebook is doing. The company responsible for Beacon is now making its own privacy recommendations, which will take effect by default unless users change them. And in most cases, the recommendation will be that users over 18 share all information with "everyone" -- Facebook's 350 million users as well as search engines.

Given that the vast majority of users -- 80-85% by Facebook's estimates -- don't change their default privacy settings, it's obvious that the company hopes as much information as possible is available to the Web at large.

The recommendation to share information with everyone has in itself riled digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which today warned people against accepting Facebook's suggestions. "To ensure that users don't accidentally share more than they intend to, we do not recommend Facebook's 'recommended' settings," attorney Kevin Bankston wrote in a blog post.

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But that's not the worst of Facebook's new privacy revisions. After all, users still can choose to opt out of the defaults.

The change that really has advocates seeing red is that Facebook is now -- for the first time -- officially classifying a host of data as "publicly available information." Included in this category are users' names, profile pictures, cities, gender, networks, list of friends and pages people are fans of.

While the EFF says it will theoretically be possible for users to hide their friends list from the Web at large, doing so will involve going to the profile editing settings and changing the number of friends displayed to zero -- a cumbersome process, to say the least. "If the goal with these changes was to clarify the privacy settings and make them easier to find and use, then Facebook has completely failed when it comes to controlling who sees who[m] you are friends with," the EFF says.

Additionally, developers of third-party apps now can get all of the so-called publicly available information about users when their friends download the apps.

The one bright spot for users is that Facebook has a history of making changes and then retreating from them -- as happened with Beacon.

Already, the ACLU has launched a petition drive imploring CEO Mark Zuckerberg to revise the company's new  settings.

2 comments about "Facebook Flops Again With Updated Privacy Policy".
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  1. Kare Anderson from Say it Better Center, Inc., December 9, 2009 at 6:43 p.m.

    This is a powerful example of a needed "Nudge" approach whereby Facebook users need only on out of privacy protections rather than figuring out they should opt into it.

    learn more in Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's book Nudge ... see other examples of nudging people to adopt behavior in their self-interest
    http://www.movingfrommetowe.com/2009/09/27/how-we-help-each-other-do-the-right-thingsometimes/

  2. Rob Goulet from Entertainment Sports Partners, Inc., December 9, 2009 at 7:16 p.m.

    Thank you for the insightful article. It's a shame Facebook has not learned from their past mistake with Beacon. Facebook's has now "Jumped the Shark"?

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