by George Heymann

Who needs friends like Facebook?

by George Heymann

Facebook privacy concerns were brought to the forefront after Facebook released a new tool that required members to reset their privacy settings. Many users were confused by the new settings and the updated Facebook privacy policy. Member confusion with the changes inadvertently left previously private information public.

Additionally, Facebook allegedly has been sending personal information to online advertising companies without its users’ consent, according to a Harvard Business School professor who filed a letter of complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
“Facebook has been telling its users one thing and then doing the opposite,” Ben Edelman, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, told DailyFinance. “Facebook never told anyone, anywhere, they were going to do this. It’s no longer about quality of disclosure, but about whether Facebook is telling the truth in the first place.”

In a Washington Post op-ed piece, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the privacy concerns and promised to do better. Zuckerberg wrote “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. We have heard the feedback. There needs to be a simpler way to control your information. In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use and give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services.”

In response to these privacy and advertising concerns, a group of users have started a grass roots movement to get users to delete their Facebook account in protest. The groups website asks: ”Sick of Facebook’s lack of respect for your data? Add your name and commit to quit.” As of this writing, more than 14,000 users have committed to quit on May 31, 2010, deemed “Quit Facebook Day.” If you decide you want to “permanently delete” your facebook account there is now a wiki page dedicated to the subject. You can find step by step instructions here.

Another possible solution “Diaspora” is being presented by a group of four New York University students. The term Diaspora refers to a “permanently displaced and relocated collective,” from the Greek “A scattering of seeds.” The goal of Diaspora is to build an open source community web service alternative to Facebook that will give users control over their data.
While the students had hopes of raising $10,000 by June 1 to fund their development, the programming team has already raised in excess of $100,000. If Diaspora is successful, we may have an open source alternative to Facebook where the privacy of user data will be paramount as a stated goal.

I have to admit that Facebook hasn’t been one of my favorite sites. I maintain a Facebook page mostly to keep up with what is going on with some family members, friends and coworkers. I consider any information that I post on my Facebook page as public. However many users have assumed that all their data is private and herein lies the problem.

The solution seems fairly simple to me: make all data private by default. Make it so any information made public has to be explicitly authorized by the user. I’m not sure why this has not been obvious to Facebook creators. It shouldn’t take weeks to make these the default settings.

Update: 052710 9:12am
To Facebooks credit it appears that they are taking some immediate action to address privacy concerns, more as it develops.

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