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Analyzing Facebook's Privacy Push

Facebook faces up to outrage over its privacy policy. We look at the mea culpas and the new face of privacy online.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a news conference in Palo Alto, Calif., May 27, 2010. (AP)

Rebellion in Facebook country over the last few weeks over privacy. And yesterday, Facebook blinked. 

The online superpower, with nearly a half a billion members posting all manner of personal information worldwide, finally could not resist the howls of unhappiness from users – and some powerful elected officials – outraged over just how much personal laundry was being publically aired and shared for profit all over. 

Facebook says it will now make it easier for users to cover up, at least a little. 

But the battle over privacy in the online era is not over.  

This Hour, On Point: Facebook, and the new face of privacy.

Guests:

Dan Fletcher, technology reporter for Time magazine whose cover story is “How Facebook is Redefining Privacy.” His article begins, “Sometime in the next few weeks, Facebook will officially log its 500 millionth active citizen. If the website were granted terra firma, it would be the world’s third largest country by population, two-thirds bigger than the U.S.”

Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He spearheaded a consumer groups complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that puts the heat on Facebook to change its privacy controls. He teaches privacy law at Georgetown University Law Center. You can also read his letter about Facebook to Congress.

Daniel Castro, senior analyst and resident Facebook expert for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. His recent position paper is called “Facebook is Not the Enemy.” He’s a computer engineer who has worked as an IT analyst at the Government Accountability Office.

More:

-You can listen to the first hour of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s conference call yesterday with the press:

http://audio.wbur.org/storage/2010/05/onpoint_0527_mark.mp3

-WBUR new media watcher Andrew Phelps live-blogged Zuckerberg’s roll-out yesterday.

-Link to Facebook’s user feedback page on privacy.

-Finally, if you haven’t joined us on Facebook already, please know that On Point Radio has an energetic discussion group always chatting away. You’ll get show updates and more. Tom and the staff would love to hear from you.

On Point Radio's Facebook page yesterday, as the FB privacy announcement was being made.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • George Holoch

    Will someone please explain why there is anything surprising about the fact that those who expose themselves via Facebook, etc. find themselves exposed. We seem intent as a culture on making Big Brother’s work easy.

  • http://www.filipinoboston.blogspot.com AKILEZ

    I actually Got a Virus on my computer last week.

    Everytime I go to a web site that web site tells me that I won a Lap Top but they are not actually the one who is telling me that I won.

    Avoid down loading those Videos that does not play on media player. stop downloading a new player.

    IT IS A VIRUS OR SPY WARE.

  • http://musicroad.blogspot.com Kerry Dexter

    while there is this outrage about privacy, it’d be interesting to see if anyone notices facebook’s policy on rights to anything posted there. On Point, you might want to look that over too.

  • Pete

    I have no issue with Facebook continually seeking ways to “monitize” their creation. It is a business. However, being familiar with the origins of Facebook vs. ConnectU and Mark Zuckerberg’s dubious behavior then (at least the publically available stories), I must confess that I do not find the repeated unannounced changes in privacy settings surprising or out of character.

  • AKILEZ

    By the Way I got the Virus from FaceBook.

  • AKILEZ

    Some hackers are good on by passing FACEBOOK security system. for example if down load a Video FB will screen that video if contain a Virus if FB find something a trojan they will not post that video.

    But Hackers just download by passing FB security.

    Sometimes your pictures disappear from FB.

    Rememeber Zynga and Ads on FB are vulnerable attacks from Hackers.

    Do not always press Allow.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I think Pete nailed it above, however, it’s not just Facebook’s (Zuckerberg’s) less than ethical stance on things, it’s also that many of its users are less than experienced and consider Facebook their entire online world the way many used AOL not too long ago.

  • http://mofyc.blogspot.com Brian

    The problem with Zuckerburg’s approach is that it misreads people’s desires. Yes, people want to share, but they want to have control over with whom they share what information. The default privacy setting on FB should be to only share with friends and that anyone who wants to share more broadly should have to proactively change it.

  • John

    I was more annoyed with Google when they involuntarily signed me up for Buzz.

  • Greg Camp

    Why is anyone surprised about this? When you hand over your private information to the children who run Facebook, the consequences are obvious. Let us just hope that Zuckerberg has revealed something about himself that will come back to bite him in the future. As for me, I’m not on it and won’t be on it.

  • Dustin

    The best analogy I have seen about this relates Facebook’s cavalier attitudes towards users’ wishes to a cab driver’s concerns about customer service.

    When you hop in a cab and the driver really puts the pedal to the metal and gets you to your destintation quickly, you think it’s all in the name of service to you, the customer! In reality the cabby’s motivation for a speedy trip is not about your needs, but is rather a by-product of the that he wants to pick up his next fare as soon as possible.

    Original Analogy here:
    http://venomousporridge.com/post/574459133/facebook-cab-ride

  • http://onanov.com Donald Baxter, Iowa City, IA

    It’s like we’ve determined that Facebook should be free, that there should be no business model and the company should continue to lose money. What sort of reality is the average Facebook user prepared to face? Most users say they wouldn’t pay for it–someone has to pay, however.

  • Joy

    Why would a parent allow an 8 or 9 year old child to be on facebook without supervision (or at all, in my opinion)? Parents should be monitoring what the child posts – ie: videos, etc.

  • http://www.amandawildnotes.blogspot.com Amanda

    Several weeks ago I noticed a box about “Instant Personalization” when logging into Facebook. There was no explicit prompt to review it; this had to be done ‘manually’ on the user’s own initiative. No less than four actions/clicks were required to ‘opt out’ of a program that would integrate the rest of the Internet to my Facebook account.

    At the very last step, (unclicking ‘Allow’), a pop-up box entitled “Are you sure?” appeared with the following text:
    “Allowing instant personalization will give you a richer experience as you browse the web. If you opt-out, you will have to manually activate these experiences.”

    Language like this deceives the inattentive user into thinking they are somehow losing a “rich experience” by opting out of something that in reality is dissolving privacy barriers they may not be aware of.

  • ThresherK

    Bill the caller obviously is in need of having to run around fixing the settings for his immediate family, his less tech-savvy friends, and his elder relatives who couldn’t figure out Facebook’s terms by plowing through the links, pages, and near-unreadable type of lawyerese designed to be ignored-and-approved by the user.

  • Dave

    Facebook seems to be missing the point about privacy or are choosing to do so. Facebook members want to share their information, but with those individuals or groups of individuals THEY chose and not Facebook. They have NO right to share the information if I don’t want them to do so. They say you determine what to share, BUT if the form they have to fill out is so controlled that it directs your choices, is it really a choice???

  • jeffe

    AKILEZ here’s a little tip, stop downloading video players or anything for anyone you don’t know. I never download anything unless I know what and whom it comes from.

    Facebook is full of hackers and it’s very common for people to have their accounts stolen and used.

    I don’t trust it and I when I use it I only browse and sometimes make a comment.

  • Jemimah

    I think we’re being naive about this. If you’re worried about your privacy, either don’t join fb, or don’t put anything up there that you don’t want someone to see! Of course fb is trying to let businesses see our info, because that’s how they make money. If we were paying to be on it, then they wouldn’t have to do this.
    Also, this whole hoopla about it being too all-consuming is hilarious. It’s only as time-consuming as you let it be. No one’s obligated to answer every single post that comes along.
    As for what kids put on fb…it’s up to parents to patrol! I feel very safe on it and don’t get harrassed by strangers because I don’t put anything up that would invite that kind of response. We have to take responsibility here!

  • Todd

    “Will someone please explain why there is anything surprising about the fact that those who expose themselves via Facebook, etc. find themselves exposed. We seem intent as a culture on making Big Brother’s work easy.”
    Posted by George Holoch

    Exactly right! Once upon a time, when people minded their own business, instead of trying to mind everyone else’s, privacy protection wasn’t an issue. My, how we have “advanced.”

  • JEFF D

    I knew a campus police officer at my university, and he once told me that they police had a special facebook account and could see anyones profile no matter what the privacy settings.

  • Bill

    Hannah thinks college-age FB users can self-regulate, but most are living in the world of meeting new people and exploring new things. They typically don’t realize that once they get out of school and are looking for work, they’re probably not going to want pictures and videos of themselves engaging in all sorts of activities, illegal or just suggestive, on the web. Once it’s out there for all to see, it’s going to end up in somebody’s cache (google, etc.) and won’t be easy, if even possible, to eradicate. Employers absolutely do use FB to screen candidates.

    I think a reasonable default setting on all postings is to be shown only to your friends (not friends of friends, networks, etc.).

  • Matt

    What do folks think about the ethics of Facebook Comunity Pages, where Facebook is creating pages for individuals who have Wikipedia entries, even if those people have not registered at Facebook?

  • BHA

    Call me a Luddite if you like but I have no desire to have a FaceBook account. Neither do my wife nor my 2 teen age daughters.

    But, as to security, I think the DEFAULT should be MAX privacy, NOTHING public. Let the user figure out how to open it up rather than how to lock it down.

  • Paul Zink

    Isn’t regulating Facebook as a utility putting the cart before the horse, considering that the FCC hasn’t yet taken steps to reclassify the Internet as a utility subject to regulation like telecommunications?

  • Faust

    This guy’s habit of starting every response with the word “So” is really annoying.

  • ThresherK

    Not sure if I missed it, but at 44 minutes I heard “opt in” and “opt out” for the first time.

    Why was this not part of the show’s promo?

  • sky

    I’m worried about gvt. regulation over FB. That will open a whole can of worms with government regulation on the Internet. We could have lobbyists influencing which and what types of sites fall under governmental regulations. The spirit of the Internet is a free exchange of information. There will be bumps along the way, but as the FB case sbows, the public can stand up for itself and cause changes in business practices.

  • http://blog.48park.com Holly Seiferth

    I am very concerned the way the show is going that the dialogue about FB and privacy will serve to eat away at personal responsibility – all content on FB is user published. Also services like Intelius by comparison are actively aggregating information in ways that do encroach on privacy. If we fail to make this kind of critical distinction then we re doomed to our own irresponsibility.

  • Lee Levitt

    I have an expectation of privacy when I go online. I’ve been on the internet long enough (since 1990) to know that I need to check my account settings periodically.

    Not everyone has that awareness. Reference this week’s NPR story about college finances. Incoming freshmen sign for loans quarter after quarter and don’t learn what they’ve done until they’re presented with a bill for $100K on graduation.

    Online privacy is more insidious. Does the 13 year old (or 20 year old) know that privacy is important? Do they know what happens to their private information when they make it publicly available? Do they understand who might be targeting them for commercial (or criminal) purposes?

    Online services have to take the moral high ground, even if it costs them in sponsor fees (and it will!). They need to make the playground safe for all…and if some want to open up some of their information for public consumption, then it needs to be an active, willing, informed choice. As of now, however, Facebook is banking on the fact that many of its users don’t know or understand the issues.

    Facebook has conflicting priorities — to drive revenue by making valuable personal information available to third parties, and to build a sustainable, safe environment. Will they protect their millions of users or bank on their ignorance?

  • spncr

    maybe another social network site will topple facebook by not sharing info or very little….
    u can drink the koolaid but you cant say how much sugar is in it…

  • Matt

    I’m actually less worried about young people, and more about the elderly, who are generally less tech-savvy: Facebook seems like a scam artist’s dream.

  • http://paqi.blogspot.com Bobby

    The argument that “users have no right to complain because it’s a free service” is atrocious. That they pay with their time and attention, rather than currency, does not make a difference. Facebook’s business model depends on having a high user-base; it is their business to keep their users happy. Users have every right to complain when their privacy settings are radically changed and their posted content exposed, without their consent.

    As for Zuckerberg’s related argument that “a low percentage of users revolted”, the fact of the matter is that most users were completely unaware that their entire work history, educational information, current locations, etc were being sold to third party websites.

  • mogl

    The comment that few people “left facebook” is deceptive. Facebook has made it all but impossible. How many people decided its was not worth the time, or wondered if it was possible.

    Go to the Help Center. It’s not there. Now set a timer and try to find it. How long did it take? Could you find it at all?

  • http://wbur.org Kelvin

    Facebook’s privacy statement is 5800 words. No one even knows for sure what happens when you delete yourself from FB. The company will still mine your information (photos, etc,)once you have closed your account.

  • Robert C Freeman

    In 2008 I subscribed to Facebook.

    I gave my home city and my birthdate but never connected to Facebook again.

    Yesterday I got a message apparently from Facebook as follows.

    “facebook
    Hi Robert,
    You haven’t been back to Facebook recently. Here are some people you may know on Facebook. Connect with friends, family, classmates, and co-workers to see their updates, pictures, and more.”

    Two were clients I’ve corresponded with extensively over the last few years. One was a fellow genealogist in England. Two were commercial contacts — the company I buy toner from and one I bought a book from several years ago. Two were total strangers.

    But one was a client who had subscribed using her maiden name.

    How on earth did Facebook pull together such a disparate list of people to send me?

    Had they all submitted me as someone to be their “friend”?

    How did they decide that these “are some people you may know on Facebook”?

    And why did they decide to be so aggressive at “selling” me right in the middle of their privacy controversy?!

  • Joseph Cugini

    Libertarians stress that this is a private transaction, between Facebook and individual. This goes tto quewtion of “inalienable” rights; inalienable defines as–not for sale, not to be separated from the individual. If so, and individual may not sell their vote, their right of free speech, or their right to privacy {which Supreme Ct has ruled is a fundamental right}–any less than they can sell themselves into slavery.
    Question for believers in ialienable rights of individual is; do you put absolute priority idividual right to property, so that anything should be for sale {life, liberty, kidneys, etc.}. Or, are you a true believer in the inalienabity {can’t be taken, given, sold away} of rights?

  • sacha

    Transparency seems to be a big issue of concern for users since facebook’s world view is to one of social networking and openness. Like any business, facebook should be held accountable for procedures/control settings made unbenounced to the user. Although facebook is a for profit organisation, like other companies it should have the professionalism to make aware to its users for example the repercussions of incorporating a farmville application…users are realizing the business aspect behind this “interconnected web world” yet like nutrition facts demanded for food products or transparency of campaign funding, there needs to be transparency in the facebook world- its sad that its come to needing a watch dog media source and press conference to get the the botton of what’s REALLY going on!

  • Will Not GivetonametoNPR

    I’ve noticed recently upon doing a google search of my name, that NPR posts were perhaps the most pervasive. NPR does not delete information. I have posts that come up in a search of my name that are over a year old. NPR, please stop this practice.

    I will not post on NPR again, using my real name, until NPR does something about this problem.

  • AKILEZ

    I don’t down load videos on Facebooks and will never will.

    If your friend POST OR SHARE a video and posted it on your Profile your Profile is already infected even if you don’t press play to watch that video.

    If the video is posted on your profile you are already infected.

    I never download videos.

  • jeffe

    So how did you get the virus?
    People post videos all the time on FB and I have never had a problem with any viruses from the ones I have viewed.

    However I don’t do this very often and will be stopping.
    It seems as if every week I get a message from some friend on FB with a warning about their FB account being hacked and used for spam. This is a problem.

    Of course I could just delete the FB account.

  • AKILEZ

    Me Too Jeffe I never experience this kind of A PROBLEM I just found out last week.

    FB is like a box of chocolate.

  • akilez

    Oh!!! I got the virus when my friend posted the video on my profile. I started winning Laptops everytime I go to a web site.

  • loninappleton

    My first knowledge of Facebook came from this source:

    http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/07/31/106-facebook/

    It was also the last contact I had with Fb personally at all. The author rightly notes that Facebook is supposed to be an upscale MySpace: the equivalent of white flight.

    On the net, like those famous pooches in the New Yorker cartoon said, nobody knows you’re a dog. Slick layout signifies and implies good taste. So the migration among the gullible to Facebook is no surprise to me. Note: I never had any contact with Myspace either.

    This is a little about net history. Before the Internet known today there was Usenet newsgroups and people gathered around interests back in the early 90′s. The bowdlerization of narcissistic friending (giving you maybe what you missed in high school) is cheap and phony.

    Another quick point about the remark above said “the kids at Facebook.” Yes there’s a huge component of infantilization in US culture. It suggests that grandma has to have the latest way to keep up with her grandchildren as a way to sell the service.

    What does On Point need with two ways to comment on it’s program: website and Facebook both? Will On Point perform it’s own white flight at some point leaving off this more accessible form of comment?

  • jeffe

    When Face Book first started out the CEO Mark Zuckerberg had cards made up that said: “CEO Bitch” or something to that effect. It might have been “I’m the CEO bitch”.
    This points to the type of person this guy is, smart yes, arrogant and ruthless are his main traits. He would have made a very good gangster.

  • j hearse

    The last caller had a point about childrens’ naivety. parent’s should monitor computer use.

    Still, I never put my real name, or birthday online. Why would I? This way I never worry about privacy. I just tell my “actual” friends what my user name is.

  • Faraz

    I use facebook alot from my Blackberry and I dont like it that whenever I post something it shows a Blackberry Icon next to the post. I wish there was a way to disable that.

  • Pat

    The default option ought to be that which would most likely be preferred by the majority of users. If the majority’s preference is facially indeterminable then Facebook ought to make the default option the least invasive in terms of disclosing any potentially private information.

    Pat
    St. Louis, MO

  • Pat

    That is, if Facebook is to err then they should err on the side of keeping information private. The default option ought to keep information overly private, and if people what to opt-in to share information to third parties then individual users have the ability to go to their privacy settings and do just that.

  • http://happyrain.org/ Emily

    My first knowledge of Facebook came from this source:

    http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/07/31/106-facebook/

    It was also the last contact I had with Fb personally at all. The author rightly notes that Facebook is supposed to be an upscale MySpace: the equivalent of white flight.

    On the net, like those famous pooches in the New Yorker cartoon said, nobody knows you’re a dog. Slick layout signifies and implies good taste. So the migration among the gullible to Facebook is no surprise to me. Note: I never had any contact with Myspace either.

    This is a little about net history. Before the Internet known today there was Usenet newsgroups and people gathered around interests back in the early 90′s. The bowdlerization of narcissistic friending (giving you maybe what you missed in high school) is cheap and phony.

    Another quick point about the remark above said “the kids at Facebook.” Yes there’s a huge component of infantilization in US culture. It suggests that grandma has to have the latest way to keep up with her grandchildren as a way to sell the service.

    What does On Point need with two ways to comment on it’s program: website and Facebook both? Will On Point perform it’s own white flight at some point leaving off this more accessible form of comment?

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