Facebook Faces A Whole New Round of Privacy Concerns

    October 2, 2011
    Chris Crum

Last year at f8, Facebook revealed its Open Graph and social plugins. Shortly thereafter, privacy concerns became a major point of discussion throughout the media and around the water coolers. We all watched CEO Mark Zuckerberg sweat through interrogations over this, but ultimately the company made numerous changes until the discussion finally fizzled out a bit.

Are you concerned about Facebook and privacy? Let us know.

The discussion never went completely away, but privacy no longer dominated the conversation about Facebook after a while. Last week, Facebook finally held this year’s f8 event, and of course made more huge announcements, including the new Timeline feature (which still hasn’t been rolled out to everybody) and the new Open Graph, which makes apps a lot more information sharing-friendly.

Naturally, more information shared, means more privacy concerns.

The Poynter Institute says Facebook and news organizations are pushing the boundaries of online privacy and that “Facebook again my have gone too far in its quest to make privacy obsolete and that this time some news organizations could get burned by going along with it.”

Poynter Digital Media Fellow Jeff Sonderman calls out new Facebook apps like the Washington Post’s Social Reader, and similar offerings from The Guardian and The Daily, as well as Yahoo News, which is having readers sign up to have their reading activity streamed to their Facebook profile.

This isn’t the first we’ve heard of such concerns since f8. Mashable founder Pete Cashmore talked about this in another article saying that he saw on Facebook that someone he knows professionally was reading articles with titles like: “Heather Morris on Breast Implants,” and “Perrey Reeves Shows Off Bikini Body (PHOTO).”

Big deal? Career ender? Probably not in this case, but it gives some people an icky feeling to think about everyone they’re friends with on Facebook being able to see every page they look at. And you can bet that more and more sites will rush to get on board with this new Open Graph, just as they did after last year’s f8.

Earlier this week, we talked about how Facebook may be tracking your web browsing activity even when you’re logged out. An Australian hacker blogged about a test he ran looking at cookies. Facebook’s initial response was that it doesn’t track users across the web, but uses cookies on social plugins to personalize content, help improve what Facebook does or for safety/security reasons.

“No information we receive when you see a social plugin is used to target ads, we delete or anonymize this information within 90 days, and we never sell your information,” a company spokesperson was quoted as saying.

The logged out cookies specifically, they said, are used for safety and protection, including IDing spammers/phishers, detecting when someone unauthorized is trying to access accounts, helping users get back into their accounts if they’re hacked, dialing registration for under-age users, etc.

More on all of that here.

Either way, Facebook’s responses weren’t enough to keep lawmakers from urging the FTC to investigate Facebook, according to MSNBC, which reports that the co-chairmen (Reps. Edward Markey and Joe Barton) of the Congress’s Bi-Partisan Caucus want the FTC to investigate the company over “potential” privacy violations. MSNBC quotes a letter from the co-chairs:

“As co-chairs of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we believe that tracking user behavior without their consent or knowledge raises serious privacy concerns,” they said. “When users log out of Facebook, they are under the expectation that Facebook is no longer monitoring their activities. We believe this impression should be the reality. Facebook users should not be tracked without their permission.”

Facebook of course says there is no security or privacy breach.

Whether or not the FTC will launch an investigation remains to be seen, as does whether or not Facebook is really doing anything it shouldn’t be in the eyes of the law.

Regardless, this is the kind of thing the company surely doesn’t want saturating the headlines again – particularly as it tries to get people to put their entire lives on Facebook via the Timeline.

The launch of Google+ did seemingly inspire Facebook to give users more control over who can see what when they publish a status update, as the company recently launched some new features making sharing a little big more Cirlces-like. But that was before the f8 announcements, and the way the new Open Graph works with “frictionless sharing” as Facebook calls it, seemingly undermines the mentality that went into those features. When you look at an article online that you have agreed to share to your timeline, are you going to know who all sees that, or is it just going to be in the ticker for everyone you know?

Do you think Facebook’s latest announcements hurt your online privacy? Let us know in the comments.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.