“Our intention was to give you lots of granular controls; but that may not have been what many of you wanted. We just missed the mark.” — Mark Zuckerberg
Internet privacy in general is of great concern, but Facebook is definitely in the hot seat. The latest wave of protest comes following the instant personalization pilot program that “helps you connect more easily with your friends on select partner sites. These sites personalize your experience using your public Facebook information.”
Lots of people love the feature — the problem stems from the fact that users are opted-in by default and must choose to opt-out.
Facebook has many privacy options and, for the most part, they work well. Unfortunately, the number of options has grown to an almost unmanageable amount. Users are often unaware or just plain confused about what they are sharing.
Having to opt-out of a feature that shares private information is not acceptable to most of us. Facebook could have easily avoided the uproar by installing an opt-in feature instead.
Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and Chief Executive of Facebook, says he has heard the complaints about user privacy and is working to correct errors and misconceptions.
In a May 24 piece for the Washington Post, Mr. Zuckerberg said, in part:
“Facebook has been growing quickly. It has become a community of more than 400 million people in just a few years. It’s a challenge to keep that many people satisfied over time, so we move quickly to serve that community with new ways to connect with the social Web and each other. Sometimes we move too fast — and after listening to recent concerns, we’re responding.
The biggest message we have heard recently is that people want easier control over their information. In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services.
Many people choose to make some of their information visible to everyone so people they know can find them on Facebook. We already offer controls to limit the visibility of that information and we intend to make them even stronger.
Here are the principles under which Facebook operates:
– You have control over how your information is shared.
– We do not share your personal information with people or services you don’t want.
– We do not give advertisers access to your personal information.
– We do not and never will sell any of your information to anyone.
– We will always keep Facebook a free service for everyone.”
With Facebook on the defense over privacy, new startups are angling for a slice of the pie. A New York Times article names several newcomers working on breaking into Facebook’s market: Pip.io, Appleseed, Diaspora, Collegiate Nation, OneSocialWeb, Crabgrass, and Elgg, to name a few worth keeping your eye on.
Despite protests like “QuitFacebookDay,” and “FacebookProtest,” which are garnering plenty of attention, I wouldn’t count Facebook out. They’ve dealt with privacy issues before, and membership is still growing.
Lawmakers are responding to public concerns and are considering legislation to address internet privacy issues.
- April 26: Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook: “I am asking the FTC to use the authority given to it to examine practices in the disclosure of private information from social networking sites and to ensure users have the ability to prohibit the sharing of personal information,” Schumer continued. “If the FTC feels it does not have the authority to do so under current regulations I will support them in obtaining the tools and authority to do just that.”
- May 4: U.S. Representatives Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL) released a discussion draft of legislation to assure the privacy of information about individuals both on the internet and offline.
- May 18: The Electronic Privacy Information Center sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission requesting investigation into Google’s collection of user data off its “Street View” application, saying that it appears to violate federal wiretap laws.
- May 19: U.S. Representatives Joe Barton (R-TX) and Edward Markey, (D-MA) wrote to Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Liebowitz about Google’s recent revelation that it gathered information sent over Wi-Fi networks.
The internet is tailor-made for information sharing. Some of us are willing to share more of ourselves than others and, with that in mind, Facebook owes it to its members to simplify privacy settings.
We need stricter privacy laws when it comes to the internet, but that does not absolve us of the personal responsibility to think before we post.