Facebook Grapples With Privacy Issues
In answering the aforementioned questions, you may want to consider the following:
Issues of privacy
Security of personal information/data
Data protection laws
Discussion participation is part of your grade so make sure that you post your thoughts and views on the subject and respond to two of your fellow classmates’ postings as well.
Facebook Grapples With Privacy Issues
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By JESSICA E. VASCELLARO
Updated May 19, 2010 12:01 a.m. ET
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes users should be more public. Associated Press
A backlash over Facebook Inc.’s privacy practices has triggered disagreement inside the company that could force Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to scale back efforts to encourage users to share more about themselves in public.
The social network has come under fire for a series of recent changes to its policies that have limited what users can keep private, as well as embarrassing technical glitches that exposed personal data.
Privacy advocates have called on regulators to intervene. Some frustrated users, meanwhile, have created websites that highlight what they see as shortcomings in Facebook’s privacy controls.
- digits: Facebook Privacy Backlash (05/14/10)
- News Hub: Privacy Groups Go after Facebook (12/17/09)
- News Hub: Navigating Facebook’s Privacy Changes (12/09/09)
The site’s privacy travails have rattled Facebook employees and put pressure on Mr. Zuckerberg, who has argued for years that its users should be more open with their information. He has at times over-ruled employees who argue Facebook should make more information private, by default, according to people familiar with the matter. He has instead pushed to offer tools so users can control their information, these people said.
The privacy problems are piling up as the company, which is approaching 500 million users, grapples with how to build new services off all the data provided by users without offending users. The company is focused on ways to turn that vast amount of data into a multi-billion dollar ad-business.
In recent days, executives and other employees have hunkered down in Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters, debating how to address the backlash to two recently launched features. One encourages users to share more about their online activities with Facebook, while another personalizes other websites with information about users’ Facebook friends.
Participants are discussing whether to implement new controls that allow users to conceal their profiles more universally, according to people familiar with the matter. Such tools would represent a big shift from Facebook’s current approach of giving users multiple controls for specific parts of their profiles, and are an option Mr. Zuckerberg has resisted. On Monday, rival MySpace said it would simplify its privacy settings by giving users the option to select one privacy setting for all the information in their profiles. MySpace is owned by News Corp., as is The Wall Street Journal.
People familiar with the matter say some changes to Facebook’s privacy settings could be announced as soon as this week.
A Facebook spokesman said in a statement: “We know we are respected for our innovation in sharing and we want to be just as well-regarded around our innovations for control. And the conversations in the company reflect that.”
People familiar with the matter say that in recent weeks, executives have discussed topics as sweeping as whether to change the default settings on the site, although the company has no current plans to do so.
The company can’t afford not to act. The Federal Trade Commission is taking a close look at how online social networks are using people’s data, and people close to the matter say it is increasingly focused on Facebook.
“We agree that social networks provide a valuable consumer service, but that they also raise privacy concerns,” an FTC spokesperson said, adding that it had already brought several cases against social networks. A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on the FTC scrutiny.
A cottage industry of programmers have taken to exposing Facebook privacy issues. A site called YourOpenBook.org searches the public status updates of users, which have grown since Facebook began recommending users make their status updates public late last year.
Any person, even someone without a Facebook account, can easily conduct searches with the tool and bring up users’ public photos and names along with what they wrote—a little-known feature within Facebook. The tool is based on technology that Facebook released to developers so third-parties can incorporate content from Facebook for their websites.
“People are sharing things they clearly don’t want to share with the entire planet,” said Will Moffat, a 32-year-old software engineer who helped build the site.
Mr. Moffat said he built the site to pressure Facebook to switch its account settings so that such updates are private by default and wouldn’t be accessible to developers like himself.
A Facebook spokesman said the company wants people to be aware of their settings and has gone through “tremendous and unprecedented efforts” to help them.
Facebook has launched new features every few months, frequently provoking privacy concerns—including a shift late last year that made users’ name and profile picture, along with other basic information, public.
The latest chapter began in April. At a developer conference, Mr. Zuckerberg unveiled features that include a “Like” button that other websites could add to allow users to share information back on their Facebook profile pages. While Facebook said it wouldn’t pass these websites any personal data about users, users and privacy advocates grew nervous when they learned that the data about the Likes would be public.
At the same time, the company previewed technology that would allow users logged into Facebook to view information about what their Facebook friends had done when they visited the same service—like music site Pandora—without indicating they wanted to see that information.
A group of senators led by Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) called on Facebook to roll back the changes and more than a dozen privacy groups lodged a complaint with the FTC on grounds that Facebook was displaying user information without their consent.
Mr. Zuckerberg regularly argues in blog posts, speeches and private meetings that users have a right to control their own information. But he has made no secret that he believes users should and will want to make more information about themselves public over time.
Last Thursday, Mr. Zuckerberg called an open meeting to address employees’ concerns. People familiar with the meeting said many of the questions were focused on how Facebook planned to restore users’ trust. The company also reached out to privacy groups and advisors for advice, these people said.
Since then, Mr. Zuckerberg and his inner circle have been keeping long hours at Facebook’s Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters, including working through his 26th birthday Friday.
Facebook has accompanied the changes with new tools and has encouraged users to examine their account settings. But some privacy advocates and users argue that the approach isn’t sufficient.
“Facebook needs to have a few very simple high-level controls” so users can keep data private, said Peter Eckersley, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The company, he said, should stop acting as if “they have a mission to make all of our private lives public.”
—Thomas Catan contributed to this article.