Facebook’s Latest Controversy – New Privacy Changes Violate Policy?

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guest_fbook_1209-thumb-150x113-11612When Facebook changed its privacy system, we were pretty positive about the updates as we covered them.  Now, however, it’s being reported that some of the suggestions by Facebook itself for keeping private those things which are now permanently public seem to be violating Facebook’s own Terms of Service.  It could also be a sneaky move towards their future monetizing plans.

In line with new deals penned with search giants Google and Bing, Facebook’s new policies are meant to open up more information for services like Google’s new Live Search, which brings up near-real-time information as it’s happening – currently mostly from Twitter.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, however, about half of Facebook’s users have so far rejected putting their information out in the open.  Facebook’s Barry Schnitt says that the information being forced into public, such as profile pics (or avatars), gender, city/state, etc., can be avoided if users wish by just lying when filling out the information.

The problem is, this is a clear violation of Facebook’s latest Terms of Service agreement that all users must agree to in order to use Facebook and violation of which gives Facebook the ability to block or close your account:

You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.

Other questions arise as well, making O’Reilly question the entire Facebook brand, as Mark Sigal wonders why the new privacy push is such a big deal for Facebook and why they would do it without consulting their community.  He quotes the Electronic Frontier Foundation when they question the entire privacy issue itself, stating that Facebook has created a maelstrom of concerns because of their lack of user input into their new system.

To Facebook’s credit, when Friends Lists were announced to be forced public, many users complained.  Hearing the complaints, Facebook quickly reversed the decision and changed the site to allow the privatizing of friends lists.

The problem is, this was done only because of protests from users.  The forcing of Friends Lists into the public was likely a move towards Facebook’s future plans with the Social Graph API.  The site’s owners clearly see this upcoming interface for third-party systems to be the cash cow on which Facebook will finally see real profitability.

Julia Angwin at the WJS ends her article on a rather sad note.  The trouble is, most of us probably have to agree with her.  She is going to make her Facebook profile public, as the move seems basically unavoidable.  But first, she is removing everything personal from her profile and only leaving things she would want her “parents, employer.. or future employer to see.”

“We’ll need to treat this public version of Facebook with the same hard-headedness that we treat Twitter: as a place to broadcast, but not a place for vulnerability.  A place to carefully calibrate, sanitize and bowdlerize our words for every possible audience, now and forever.  Not a place for intimacy with friends.”

I think she’s right and it’s a sad day for what was once a fun, friendly, intimate community.


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