by Webnme2 on May 14th 2010 in Social Media
Facebook will tell you that it is concerned about your privacy, but from my perspective as a user, it seems that the frequent changes in how facebook handles privacy are doing nothing but erode the privacy of its users.
The most recent assault on privacy came with a message asking users to confirm which pages would be on their profiles with the message
Uncheck any Page you don’t want to link to. Linking to education and work Pages may also create additional Pages, such as for your major or job title. If you don’t link to any Pages, these sections on your profile will be empty. By linking your profile to Pages, you will be making these connections public.
There you have it – an ultimatum – make your stuff public or don’t share any information. There was no effort at “granularity” which means users could no longer decide to share this information only with friends. This applied to Work and Education, Basic Information, Movies, Television, Books, and Interests.
The record of privacy erosion can be easily visualized at The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook. Facebook’s default settings now make just about everything you have on facebook except your birthday and contact information available to the entire Internet.
A user who wants to protect his or her own privacy is now confronted with a mind-numbing and convoluted set of controls that must be carefully managed and constantly monitored. Not only do you need to manipulate controls within facebook, you need to make sure as you post materials to make sure you restrict the audience. The advent of “Instant Personalization” made this even more complicated – so much so that you really need to go to outside sources like the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s How to Opt Out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization to figure out how to opt-out. This of course begs the question of why the burden should be on the user to have to opt-out and why this shouldn’t be an opt-in process only.
Three days ago the New York Times ran a story, Facebook Executive Answers Reader Questions. This prompted a backlash across the web:
- Facebook Keeps Telling Lies Facebook claims it’s really truly interested in protecting your privacy. Don’t you believe it. — PCWorld
- NYT Q&A with Facebook exec: lametastically lame – boingboing.net
- Facebook Exec Digs Deeper PR Hole — The Daily Online Examiner
- Facebook’s Response To Privacy Concerns: “If You’re Not Comfortable Sharing, Don’t.” — SFGate
- Some thoughts on the Facebook backlash — ComputerWorld
- Facebook Should Follow Its Own Principles — Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Some quitting Facebook as privacy concerns escalate — CNN
It was only last December that facebook agreed to halt its Beacon program and set up a $9.5 million fund for a nonprofit foundation to support online privacy, safety, and security. See, Facebook Halts Beacon, Gives $9.5M to Settle Lawsuit. In February, a class action lawsuit was filed against facebook over privacy issue from changes to privacy settings made last November and December. See, Facebook hit with class action over privacy changes.
Aside from media and legal backlash, there is now also a growing political backlash. The European Union has joined the fray along with at least one U.S. Senator. See, EU Privacy Regulators Blast Facebook.
All of this ought to make it pretty clear to facebook’s management that it needs to work toward a balance between individual privacy rights and corporate goals that is the product of consensus rather than dictated. However, the history thus far does not suggest this lesson is one that has been learned.
Perhaps it is time to consider social media like facebook to be a public utility and subject to external regulation or government regulation. Citizens deserve to have their privacy protected and reliance on private entities like facebook to do a good job is obviously not working. It is time for government intervention and regulation to protect its citizens. Perhaps it may even be necessary to have an international privacy board to govern social media policies to protect citizens internationally.