Facebook User Privacy Strategy

Facebook Privacy

The Facebook brand is becoming more synonymous with the Internet itself, as we create more content to share on the site and access it on a daily basis to receive messages, updates, event notifications and news. Through Facebook Connect and its application platform, we’re able to be tethered to Facebook even through third party websites, making everything just a little more social. In all, we seem to be okay with that. But upcoming modifications to Facebook’s privacy policy may change things. Again.

Facebook has already announced its plans to revamp its users’ privacy policy, making it easier for third parties to access even more of your information. Third parties using Facebook Connect will no longer need permission to gain additional access to your publicly-shared profile information, such as your friends, profile pictures, and anything else you haven’t placed under the “private” lock and key.
Facebook User Privacy
The big difference here is that Facebook will no longer need explicit permission from users to share this data. Users can opt out, rendering existing shared information to be deleted from third party databases. But all of Facebook’s users will automatically be opted into the new program. The social networking site insists that the information won’t be personally identifiable, similar to the way advertisers’ and website publishers’ tracking of our Internet behavior is non-identifiable.

Facebook PrivacySound familiar? Facebook’s new sharing methods and seeming disregard for user privacy looks a lot like Beacon, the public sharing program the network used for sharing your profile information with advertisers. Facebook says that the new changes have nothing to do with advertising, but that’s only in the direct sense. Such sharing of so much user information is bound to be monetized one way or another. But that’s not even really the point.

The major issue here is how Facebook interacts with its users, and how it makes the decisions it makes. Last year, after making universal changes regarding the ownership of photo content, Facebook received major backlash and quickly reverted its policy. In response, Facebook then created Facebook Principals towards the democratization of receiving user feedback and making its policy changes a more transparent process.

As Facebook felt the user responses to Facebook Principals was lower than anticipated, Facebook began to pull back from this particular initiative. That’s not to say that Facebook has abandoned user feedback all together, but I do wonder at the company’s inclusion of user feedback in the overall process. Several users that have commented on Facebook’s proposed privacy policy changes have noted that they prefer to opt into the new third party sharing mechanisms, instead of being automatically enrolled and having to then opt out.

Another occurrence of deja vu; Facebook used a similar process when rolling out the privacy changes that did effect every single user registered with its service. A few months back, Facebook made more of users’ content public by default, and incorporated several changes to the privacy settings, making it easier to access more information from users.

Again, it’s not necessarily the sharing that matters–it’s the sharing by default instead of that decision being left solely to the user. Despite many users’ requests to opt into the service, Facebook has made no announcements of changing its initial plans to continue with the proposed policy modifications. That makes it seem as though Facebook has an ulterior motive for making user info even more public by default, instead of the changes merely reflecting the ongoing evolution of social media.

Nevertheless, Facebook and others will have to reconsider what they feel is a necessary change versus one that should be left to the user. Communicating those changes, as well as the desire to change, is an important step as social media-sharing becomes more public. That’s because social media-sharing becomes more private as well, with the increasing public access creating a cause for more private sharing mechanisms. Preserving the privacy of the user will continue to be a debated matter, as corporations and individuals clash on what privacy actually means.

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