Facebook privacy problems may bother you but it seems for Facebook they’re just a business issue. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this year that “privacy is no longer the social norm” and the social network has been working pretty hard to chip away at the idea of personal information ever since. But why should we let Facebook decide that it’s time for privacy to die?
Facebook began as a pretty private place. When it launched to universities in 2005, it promised not to share your information with anyone you didn’t approve. But after a raft of Facebook privacy changes, it now often slings your data out to other sites through the Facebook Like button and through actions by your friends and Facebook apps.
Elliot Shrage, Facebook’s Vice-President for public policy told the New York Times this week: “If you’re not comfortable sharing, don’t.” And while Facebook has held a massive staff meeting to discuss the criticism it’s facing over privacy issues and is set to cuddle up to Congress in the US, that seems to be its mindset.
In January, Facebook privacy changes opened up a loophole that meant someone with a list of email addresses could peer at your profile. Earlier this month, a bug led Facebook chats to be exposed. Where Facebook isn’t actively eroding privacy, it’s seems to be making mistakes that do that anyway. If Facebook can’t keep a handle on all the information it already has about us, the future for Facebook location updates doesn’t look rosy.
Facebook makes it hard to delete your account. It’s relatively simple to deactivate it but to truly purge the web of your Facebook details takes hard graft. Facebook even shows you a selection of your friends and tells you they’ll be sad to see you leave. That’s a social network engaging in emotional blackmail.
The European Commission’s Data Protection Working Party wrote a letter to Facebook this week saying recent changes that have made previously private information public by default are “unacceptable”. It’s absolutely right. Facebook drew us in then bit by bit pulled down the walls to reveal what we do to the world.
Facebook says: “We already enable users to exclude themselves from being indexed by search engines and recently introduced granular data permissions for applications.” But those “granular” controls are the problem. Facebook privacy settings are deliberately perplexing.
Facebook privacy controls aren’t even all in the same place. Some reside on the Privacy page but others like how much information Facebook advertisers can discover about you are controlled from the My Account panel. Users are searching the web in droves to discover how to sort their Facebook privacy settings – that doesn’t suggest a simple system.
With over 400m users, it’s unlikely that Facebook is going to fail anytime soon. But savvy users should be asking what price they’ll have to pay for the social network’s success. Google Buzz had similar privacy issues but the search giant soon stepped back from the changes it had made. Don’t be surprised if it takes a lot more pressure to change Mark Zuckerberg’s mind.
Let us know what you think: do the Facebook privacy problems worry you? Or are you happy with the methods Facebook offers to control what the world can see?