The Continuing Saga Of Facebook Privacy

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Yesterday, I spoke about the recent changes Facebook has made to the structure of its basic measure — from being a “fan” to saying you “like” something — and how it will be implemented. The bigger story is the change in how that measure will be shared with other Facebook members and third parties.

The Electronics Frontier Foundation, an organization that monitors and works on behalf of protecting an individual’s digital rights, posted segments of Facebook’s privacy policy as it has developed since the debut of the site in 2005 yesterday on their site. It clearly illustrates the change in outlook and the eventual decline of privacy over the past 5 years on Facebook. Particularly telling are the entries for 2005 and the present on personal information:

2005 — “No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.” [This is from a time when Facebook was known as "Thefacebook."]

April 2010 — “When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. … The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.”

Check out the complete post on EFF to see the gradual change in privacy rights over the years.

This latest iteration of privacy reminds me a lot of the rules around spam email. Until CAN-SPAM regulations became the industry standard, users of email had little recourse in terms of complaining about businesses playing fast and loose with their email addresses. Ask to be removed from an email list? Good luck in getting that accomplished without repeated attempts that may escalate into angry exchanges. Be given the option of not receiving email newsletters when you visit a website or purchased a product? Again, good luck. Things are better now — with opt-ins, double opt-ins, requirements that unsubscribe requests be honored within a set amount of time, etc., email is becoming more within the power of the recipient to control.

But here we see Facebook going entirely the opposite way. In the beginning, the user controlled who saw their information, and Facebook guaranteed that no one else would have access. Now, in 2010, “everyone” has access to at least some of your personal information unless and until you say otherwise. And it’s not even as simple as unchecking one checkbox, as in unchecking the box that downloads a Yahoo! or Bing or Google or other search toolbar to your browser when you add a piece of software to your computer (a practice that continues to annoy me to the edge of distraction at times). To restore your privacy on Facebook, you need to go through a complex set of checks and unchecks. I think they’re just hoping that the average person will decide it’s too complicated and will just live with the extra exposure. And they well might, that is, until the space gets to the point of clutter that triggers the “whoa” moment that starts to turn things around.

About the Author

Frances Krug has worked in market research since graduating from UCLA with an MA and CPhil in Latin American history. As an editor and online content provider for the last 7 years, she currently is Associate Editor at iNET Interactive, where she also directs Search Marketing Standard's email marketing program.

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