Part III: Facebook Privacy Poked & Pwnd

Following my Part I and Part II blog entries on Facebook’s recent privacy updates, the latest news is that the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a Complaint with the FTC yesterday over these changes. EPIC is non-profit research center based in Washington, D.C.

The Complaint alleges that Facebook’s changes disclose personal information to the public that was previously restricted, as well as personal information to third parties that was not previously available. EPIC holds that such changes violate user expectations, diminish user privacy and contradict Facebook’s own representations. It has asked the FTC to investigate Facebook, and seek appropriate injunctive and compensatory relief. EPIC also urged the FTC to require Facebook to restore privacy settings that were previously available, and to give users meaningful control over personal information.

The Complaint walks through a comparison of Facebook privacy setting controls before and after the changes. In particular, EPIC details changes including the increased amount of personal information now treated as mandatorily “publicly available information” to search engines and internet users, including profile pictures, friends lists, and the people, organizations or products of which they are “fans.” EPIC further describes changes to the opt-out settings for sharing information, which, when combined with the ability of third party applications to access the expanded manditorily “publicly available information,” allows such third party applications to access a greater amount of personal information than before. EPIC also mentions the EFF article examining these changes, “Facebook’s New Privacy Changes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

One of the most troubling aspects of these updates is not the changes to user control settings, but the ability, or lack thereof, of users to choose the information that that is manditorily, publicly available. EPIC states that Barry Schnitt, Facebook’s Director of Corporate Communications and Public Policy, “suggests that users are free to lie about their hometown or take down their profile pictures to protect their privacy.” EPIC then notes that providing false information on a Facebook profile violates the site’s Terms of Service.

Read the Complaint here.

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