Sunday, April 4, 2010

Proposed Facebook Privacy Changes Raise Eyebrows

Facebook recently announced proposed changes to its privacy policy that have caused a stir among privacy advocates. The proposed changes would allow Facebook to share more of its users’ data with third party sites without obtaining explicit permission or approval from members.

Reading Between the Lines

A draft of the new privacy policy can be found here, but I found the redline version, which highlights deletions and additions, to be more helpful in identifying the changes. One of the most controversial changes is in regards to information Facebook shares with third parties. Per the terms of the proposed policy:

In order to provide you with useful social experiences off of Facebook, we occasionally need to provide General Information about you to pre-approved third party websites and applications that use Platform at the time you visit them (if you are still logged in to Facebook). Similarly, when one of your friends visits a pre-approved website or application, it will receive General Information about you so you and your friend can be connected on that website as well (if you also have an account with that website). In these cases we require these websites and applications to go through an approval process, and to enter into separate agreements designed to protect your privacy.

What Does This Mean?

Eric Eldon does a great job analyzing the various changes to Facebook’s privacy policy and he refers to the above change as “potentially a very big deal.” What concerns critics the most is that this has the potential to become Facebook’s default option as users must “opt-out” in order to prevent their information from being shared. There are also concerns that the program is likely to expand beyond the initial 10 or so “pre-approved” sites that are partnering with Facebook.

How It Would Work

If you log into Facebook and subsequently opened another window to one of its partner sites, that other site would know you as a Facebook member and would present you with relevant information from your Facebook social network.

For example, if you were logged into Facebook and then accessed a music site to listen to a song, the music site would be able to tell you which of your friends also like that song and vice versa. Once again, this level of sharing would be offered on an “opt-out” basis which means your data will be shared unless you take the time to tell them not to.

Letting the People Have Their Say

It should be noted that these changes are currently in the proposed stage. Facebook gave users until 12 a.m. (Pacific time) on Friday, March 2nd to voice their opinions on the proposal. As a proponent of internet privacy, I opposed the changes. Like other critics, I would like to see third party information sharing offered as an “opt-in” rather than an “opt-out” option. But even though the official deadline to respond has passed, it’s not too late to let Facebook executives know how you feel. If you’d like your “private” profile information to remain so, write the powers-that-be and let them know your opinion.


  1. A few posts back several of us talked about the monetization of the Internet in general and of Facebook in particular. I believe what we're seeing here is only the tip of that iceberg. I don't want to beat that horse anymore, but the fact remains that business entities must make money to stay in business. The employees must be paid and the electric bill must be taken care of. Facebook owns a lot of information. One way to make money is by renting or selling that information. I actually don't have that much of an issue with this, aside from the fact that I, too, think it should be opt in rather than opt out.

  2. I don't know when "opt- out" became the standard way of doing things, but it is a very common and a very disturbing approach. The situations under which information will be shared sound simple and logical enough, and it makes sense that they would want as many FaceBookers as possible to take advantage of new features. However, for me, it comes back to the "opt-out" approach. It sounds shady.