Will Facebook’s Privacy Woes Grow in 2013?

    December 31, 2012
    Sean Patterson
    Comments are off for this post.

Facebook cannot win the privacy issue. The company thrives on allowing advertisers to target their potential customers with pinpoint accuracy, and that takes highly personal data.

Even if Facebook were to magically be able to provide the privacy settings that its critics want, incidents such as the outing of a Gay college student would still occur. That’s because the problem isn’t the platform – it’s people. The purpose of Facebook is to connect and be social with others. Expecting such a platform to accomodate secrets or systematically attempt to protect users’ privacy is foolish.

Have you been burned by Facebook’s privacy policies? Tell us about it in the comments.

This hasn’t stopped Facebook from trying to fight the losing battle. With multiple privacy lawsuits begin hurled its way, the company really has no choice but to refine its privacy policies in an attempt to please everyone.

Facebook’s year began with allegations that its switch to user Timelines violated a U.S. Federal Trade Commission agreement the company agreed to in November 2011. That agreement states that Facebook will provide “consumers clear and prominent notice” when sharing information beyond their chosen privacy settings.

The trouble is, Facebook privacy settings can often be confusing for users who aren’t computer-savvy, who make up many of the site’s 1 billion members. This is despite the fact that the website’s current privacy settings have already been simplified. Facebook privacy settings were once very in-depth and robust, allowing nearly every type of content to have its own privacy level. The site had to change it’s privacy settings, however, because users complained that the settings were too hidden, obscure, and confusing.

Again, Facebook cannot win. More changes were made to the site’s privacy options on December 21, 2012. The changes were yet another Sisyphean attempt to provide information anyone can use, yet still provide enough functionality to be effective.

To keep Facebook in check, the FTC issued a ruling in August that requires the site to obtain a privacy audit from an independent third party. The site escaped an FTC fine, but now has to be even more careful of each move it makes with regard to privacy.

This could be part of the reason Facebook just this month ended its site governance voting. The question for the coming year is whether Facebook will force privacy on its users so as to stave off lawsuits, or whether it will continue to try and allow users to control their own private Facebook lives.

Should Facebook trust users with more privacy controls, or protect users’ privacy for their own good? Let us know in the comments.

But that’s just the software. The reality behind the blue-lined pages of Facebook is, as it always has been, people. A private group isn’t so private when its contents are leaked by an unscrupulous member. The interplay between free speech, secrets, and human nature is where Facebook’s use as a public publishing platform comes into play.

In March of this year, a 12-year-old girl was bullied by school officials into giving up her Facebook password after posting a poor review of a hall monitor to her Facebook page. It was a perfect demonstration of how Facebook acts as a publisher for those who often do not have a voice in society.

However, unlike publishers of old, Facebook does not and cannot edit content for inappropriateness or libel. It’s a problem that can only be overcome by draconian content filters that would render Facebook useless or by a sense of personal responsibility that hasn’t, and may never, pervade the wider Facebook community.

So, as Facebook enters 2013 as a public company with yet more new privacy settings, it remains to be seen whether the world’s largest social network can survive the onslaught of privacy notions that don’t apply to a free-to-use, global social network. If the company’s recent test of allowing anyone to send Facebook message spam for $1 is any indication, it appears the site will have to keep using the trial-and-error method to work towards a solution that most likely does not exist.

How can Facebook’s privacy issues be solved? Let us know in the comments.

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

    The thing that fascinates me the most about the whole Facebook/privacy issue is that this is a private business, not a public service.

    People seem to behave as though this is a government-run non-profit service, and that they have the right to democratically vote on how the private business is run. It’s hilarious to see the responses people have even to a change in cosmetics on the site, with people thinking they have the right to demand and dictate that FB change it back!

    This is not reality. You cannot go into a shop and start demanding that they stock the items you want, or that they create a company policy to suit you. Business doesn’t work that way.

    The only thing Facebook needs to do is operate a business that the majority of their customers are happy with. That’s the end of their duty to you as a user of their site.

    If people don’t like the privacy policy of FB, leave! Delete your account, delete the bookmark, delete the app and move on to another site that you DO agree with.

    No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head here, we are all free to use any sites or services we want.
    But don’t expect to be able to dictate to a private business how they should operate to suit you, especially when they are not breaking any laws or even really doing anything more despicable than what Google already does with no such backlash!

    People need to grow up, FB is a business, not a publicly funded service. Don’t like it? Leave!

    • http://www.extremeopinions.com/ K.

      Your view sucks.
      Such large international businesses should always, by law, totally conform to public interest.

  • http://wredlich.com/ny Warren Redlich

    If you don’t like FB’s privacy setup, then don’t use FB.

    No regulation necessary. Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • http://cozumelmexico.net Bob Rodriguez

    FB has no option but to push the envelope at every turn. The “free” model doesn’t work for stock holders. Users want something for nothing and FB wants to monitize the site. Therein lies the rub!It really is that simple.

  • http://www.croatiaislandsailing.com Chris Walker

    I have a facebook account that someone has tampered with and I cannot get into the account to cancel it despite trying to contact Facebook to remove the account. At the time I was unaware that anyone could access your pages. Privacy on these sites needs to be tightened and it should be made easier for the authorised user to block unwanted access or remove their own site after it has been tampered with.

  • http://ulc.net Become Ordained Online

    While it is true that you do have the right to “vote” with your feet and leave Facebook, ask the many who have unsuccessfully tried to close their accounts, only to find that it is much easier said than done. And as the prevalence of Farmville invites will attest, not every Facebook user is technologically sophisticated enough to understand how their seemingly isolated activity can have far reaching impact.

    Before posting smugly that a private business can “do what it wants” and telling others to “get over it”, perhaps it would be well to reflect on how Facebook and its surreptitious changes to the privacy policy might negatively impact your own parents or grandparents, or even the spouse whom you are sure would “know better”.

    Suppose you went into your favorite W-Mart to return something and they told you “We changed the policy. It’s right there in small, light-grey letters on the back of your receipt: All Sales Final.” You will tell me that you would simply smile and walk away? Would you meekly give up without even trying to point out the unfairness of the situation? Whether or not they could “get away with it”, I think you would likely invoke your First Amendment rights and loudly call them on it.

  • Ross Bradley

    “…it appears the site will have to keep using the trial-and-error method to work towards a solution that most likely does not exist.”

    WebProNews has an interesting article today. But in regards to Privacy and anonymity? (In using a user’s IP addy- and with mobile etc soon to be added) Looksmart tell it all.

  • greg

    As you say .. Facebook is not the problem but the people that use it. That being said Facebook provides a perfect medium for abuse and after being asked by companies to mine Facebook for dirt on applicants I have avoided Facebook as much as possible for in reality it is a total time waster right up there with the list services that don’t actually sell anything yet clog our emails with spam.

    Other services (still with their problems) are much better like LinkedIn and even twitter is more efficient with user feedback and hopefully companies will focus their efforts on feedback tools that do not promote abuse like the way Facebook does.

    What do we get from Facebook besides the ability to easily share pictures and websites etc. This is great for some with time on their hands but as a business do you really want to be wasting your time cleaning content?
    I have seen a wonderful trend with businesses going back to providing top quality support via email request and this is something I hope continues. For example – American Airlines responding within hours of me reporting an issue on their website ….

    Facebook is arrogant .. just look at its founder …. and its policies reflect it. Though your article is interesting it does not address the core issues with Facebook which are that it enables people and corporations or Governments to be abusive and its founders are simply looking for ways to profit further from what it truly is …. one giant marketing database.

    One person commented that people can always go to another site and that is true .. too many people want to blame someone else for their issues or are simply selfish.. they will complain no matter what you give them.
    – but Facebook is different in that is addictive for some and there is social pressure to use it.
    – What fascinates me is what Facebook can get away with.

    Anyways .. it is a new Year and something new is always coming … Maybe the US lawyers can start suing firms for mining information on Facebook and forcing companies to reveal how they use their access to employee accounts. So much for the US being a free country.

  • http://aprilquinn.com April

    Good post highlighting some privacy issues that are generally blamed on Facebook and not the individual ‘user interface’ problems.

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  • http://www.cbonlinepvtltd.com/blog/ Lucy

    Great Post you have highlighted the privacy issues rightly and whatever it is, it seems like these privacy woes are only growing. The problem are the people that use it. It may be the best and the most popular media site besides Twitter in the world but its privay policy is weakened and gets worse by the day. Apart from being confusing, it is misleading too. One might activate something without knowing its true meaning.

  • John

    This is a very good article, and one that i’ve shared on – of course – my FB wall with the following preface:

    “This is a good read. Not for the TLDR crowd, but is a good objective perspective on what to expect regarding ‘privacy’ on a very large and complex social networking site.

    I’m very aware of privacy and related social/legal concerns, but still use this site (FB) to share ideas and communicate with friends and family around the world. I really believe it’s the best in class.

    About those hidden, secret thoughts and etc? Common sense really, and no amount of clever computer programming will prevent the lack of this. If you don’t want your mom, pastor, rabbi, cleric or ex’es lawyer to see what you’re doing, you’ve got two choices – don’t do it, or don’t use your primary account to socialise with those you’d rather not have knocking on your mom’s wall…”

  • John Habernathy

    I would like to know why Facebook does not alphabetize people’
    s friends lists. I mean, is that really hard to do? There is so much other crap on there, you would think something as simple as that would be done.

  • Kris

    I disagree about the new privacy settings. You get all or nothing. Either no one can see anything you do or everyone can see everything you do. Take a look for yourself. I don’t post anything that I don’t want others to see but I don’t agree with sharing my likes of comments or pages or where I was with my friends. If I want to share or recommend pages or tell someone where I have been or where I am, I will! I was also added to a group and made a page admin without my permission. How is that cool? What I have found are the new privacy settings severely limit the social networking ability. For instance, I have about 400 friends on Facebook and about 200+ likes on my business pages. I now get about 14-30 views on any particular post or photo on my personal and business pages. I was growing my businesses and getting more sales on Facebook up until 2012. I suspect this has to do with their more recently contrived selective algorithms. This has nothing to do with security as far as I can tell, but everything to do with who pays them $. As if the ads, apps, and games weren’t enough for us to put up with supporting a free network…leave it to greedy capitalism to screw up a good thing.