Watchdogs Ask Facebook To Back Away From Changes To Terms

Facebook's proposed changes to its data-use policy aren't sitting well with everybody. The Electronic Privacy Information Center and Center for Digital Democracy say that the upcoming revisions -- announced on the eve of Thanksgiving -- pose new threats to users.

"Because these proposed changes raise privacy risks for users, may be contrary to law, and violate your previous commitments to users about site governance, we urge you to withdraw the proposed changes," the groups say in a letter sent today to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The social networking service proposed three revisions to its policies. One is to do away with user voting on future changes. The second involves tweaking users' control over which incoming messages they can receive. The third allows Facebook to share users' information with companies it's calling affiliates -- like the recent acquisition Instagram.

EPIC and CDD say that Facebook's decision to give people less control over their in-boxes is "likely to increase the amount of spam that users receive."



The groups also say that Facebook's decision to draw on data from Instagram raises similar privacy issues as Google's controversial move to aggregate information about signed-in users of different services -- Gmail, YouTube, Android, etc.

The watchdogs raise some points worth discussing, but this recent round of changes pales in comparison to some of Facebook's more egregious prior moves -- such as the decision to change everyone's default settings to share-everything, or to share signed-in users' names with outside companies.

At the same time, Facebook didn't do itself any favors by announcing the changes on the eve of Thanksgiving -- a time when many of the journalists and industry watchers who would typically analyze this information weren't available. In fact, the timing alone made it seem as if Facebook was trying to pull a fast one on privacy; that feeling probably helped revive a long discredited hoax resulted in people posting unnecessary copyright disclaimers on the site.

Specifically, droves of Facebook users posted the following warning: "In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc. ... For commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times!"

While those posts have spurred a good degree of ridicule, it's understandable that many people think Facebook intends to profit from users' data. What's more, they're not entirely wrong: Facebook clearly intends to profit from people's data -- though via advertising as opposed to copyright infringement.

For its part, Facebook is reminding users that they retain ownership over the information and content they post.

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