Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Facebook, Privacy, and MoveON

Note: I will be in DC until next Monday...then back to posting here...

Before I leave however, I suppose its encumbent on me to post something about Facebook - the hot new "online community" site - and the virtual rash of privacy violations currently being associated with it.

Let's first start with the company's deal with advertisers. This from The Independent:

The new technology will also allow businesses to build custom-designed "pages" on the social networking site. Users can become "fans" of a company's page, which means any interaction with that brand will be broadcast to their Facebook friends.

Privacy campaigners are up in arms about Facebook's move, lambasting the company for selling out its users to the highest bidders - companies such as Coca-Cola, Sony, Verizon and Blockbuster.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Centre for Digital Democracy in Washington, warned yesterday that Facebook has mounted a "massive invasion of user privacy". He added: "The authorities need to crack down on Facebook and MySpace to stop data collection and make sure people's privacy is respected." He wants regulators, including the European Commission's Privacy Authority, to investigate.

Deborah Pierce, who heads the lobby group Privacy Activism, said: "Users should be concerned. They have no idea who has access to information about them from the site."

In the US, legal experts, such as the University of Minnesota law professor William McGeveran, have queried whether Facebook's ad strategy is even legal. He believes that under a 100-year-old New York privacy law users may be able to sue for damages if their photos are used for advertising purposes without their consent.

But that's not all. Now MoveOn.org, the liberal civic and political action group, is sounding the privacy invasion alarms in a campaign against Facebook, demanding they respect the privacy of its users.

CNet details the clash:

Last week, a feud began to brew between leftist activist group MoveOn.org and social-networking site Facebook concerning its "Beacon" advertisements, which broadcast information about users' activity on third-party partner sites to their friends' Facebook newsfeeds. According to MoveOn, it's a violation of user privacy because there's no way to universally opt out of Beacon ads. Facebook retorted, and the argument has turned into a legitimate debate over how far is really too far when it comes to sharing information about members' activity.


"Facebook should explain why they chose at the last minute to put the wish lists of corporate advertisers ahead of the privacy interests of their users," MoveOn spokesman Adam Green said in a statement from the organization. "Facebook has the potential to revolutionize how we communicate with each other and organize around issues together in a 21st century democracy. But to succeed, they need the trust of their users. The fact that Facebook proactively chose to make it harder for their users to keep private information from being made public will rub a lot of Facebook users the wrong way. The ultimate act of good faith would be to switch to an opt-in policy."

The magazine Techworld has more on the specific areas of disagreement:

MoveOn's disdain is aimed mainly at Facebook's new advertising program, known as "Beacon," which automatically posts information to a user's Facebook profile about their online purchases and other activities.

Facebook gives users the choice of opting out of the Beacon program through its privacy policy, but MoveOn believes the nature of the ad program demands a tougher policy, one that requires that users opt in before having their information tracked and posted in the program.


Facebook's Beacon program funnels information about a user's Web activities back to their profiles, where it can be viewed by their network of friends. For instance, if a user buys something on an e-commerce site, a note describing what and where was purchased is added to the user's profile. Or if a user posts a review of a restaurant or hotel on some sites, that information can also be pulled into the profile.


"The obvious solution is to switch to an 'opt in' policy, like most other applications on Facebook," MoveOn wrote on its Facebook page.

MoveOn is not the only entity that has raised concerns about the new program. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that the social ads may violate New York state law. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been pressured by privacy groups and others to create a do-not-track list that would enable Web users to opt out of a range of marketing-focused tracking programs at once.

For more of the article click here. In my opinion the answer is simple: In today's world in which ones most personal information can be shared around the world in seconds, "OPT-IN" is always the superior option than "opt-out". Period!

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