14 May 2010

Facebook: the privacy backlash!

It was only a matter of time before Facebook`s numerous and worrying privacy changes attracted a number of complaints from its users and also from privacy bodies. The EU Privacy watchdog has now added its voice to the growing number of complaints and has stated that the recent Facebook privacy changes are 'unacceptable.' The complaint refers to the privacy changes made by Facebook over the course of the past year. In its statement, the Article 29 Working Party stated that:

"It is unacceptable that the company fundamentally changed the default settings on its social-networking platform to the detriment of a user...Facebook made the change only days after the company and other social networking sites providers participated at a hearing during the Article 29 Working Party’s plenary meeting in November 2009."

In its letter to Facebook, the Article 29 Working Party also added that default settings should protect users rather than expose their data. An interesting article from the New York Times this week showed that currently users have to navigate through 50 different privacy settings with an excess of 170 options to disable the default settings and protect their data.

The Article 29 Working Party has now added its voice to the criticism. It said that in its letter to Facebook it had emphasised that default settings should protect, not expose, users' private information. The Article 29 Working Party also addressed the issue of third party applications having access to users` data and the disclosure of third person data contained in users` profiles to other users.

Additionally, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has made a similar complaint about Facebook to the FTC on the ground that Facebook is engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices.

As a result of these complaints, Facebook is holding a privacy crisis meeting today although the company is downplaying the significance of the meeting. It remains to see whether the privacy watchdog will have enough clout to compel Facebook to change its privacy policy and whether Facebook acknowledges that it is not feasible for the user to navigate through so many privacy settings before having a decent level of protection for his/her data. In the end it will be a question of the clout of such privacy watchdogs, the extent of their enforcement powers, and whether such powers are enough to prevail over the current company`s business model in which disclosure is the norm as it ensures more revenue for the company via targeted advertising.

8 May 2010

Concerned about your privacy on Facebook: read ahead!

Comprehensive article by ZDNet giving detailed guidelines on how to protect your privacy on Facebook. This is a must read for any Facebook user concerned about his/her privacy since all the privacy changes of the past few months!

6 May 2010

Another security loophole...

It has been reported by BBC Technology that Facebook has at last sorted out its security flaws which permitted users to view who other users are chatting to or which friend requests other users receive. The chat facility was removed temporarily until it was fixed again and it is now up and running again. A few blogs such as Allfacebook picked on the flaws but avoided blogging about them to curtail mass panic until the flaw was pick. The flaw was first outed by the very reliable TechCrunch.

2 May 2010

Experiencing Facebook`s connected profiles first-hand: a tale of bewilderment and weariness.

Having just spent the past hour going through the maze of sorting out my Facebook profile page as a result of the introduction of the 'Connected Profiles' function, I am baffled... Baffled by the effort and time it takes to opt-out of any of the connections you do not want to make public (e.g. location, university etc), and baffled by how cumbersome it is to find out what the 'connected profiles' functionality is all about.

The help centre of Facebook has a section on Community Pages and Profile connections which is meant to guide the user gently through it all means and the impact of this new functionality on the privacy of the user. However, the section is not very user-friendly for many reasons. Firstly, you have to click on each question to find out the answer rather than all the answers appearing alongside the questions. This is very cumbersome specially as to find out what it is all about, you really do have to find the answers to most of the questions. Secondly, there is a line which appears time and time in many of the answers, almost as a sort of incantation: 'Connecting to Pages is now the main way to express yourself on your profile.' I have tried to find out what this means but to no avail yet: it sounds quite creepy actually!!!

If like me, you are sceptical of connecting to these community pages (and every user should be aware that many community pages are currently being under construction which means that there are currently no privacy settings for these pages: i.e. your data is out there for all to view!), then you will end up with a very boring profile page as mine: completely empty!! I am not even sure if I have a profile picture anymore!! If my current research did not focus on Facebook in part, this is the time where I would have said: 'Hasta la vista baby' in my best Arnie voice!

Timeline of Facebook`s privacy policy

Interesting article by the EFF on the eroding privacy policy of Facebook over the years @ https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/facebook-timeline