Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Facebook privacy

Facebook, Inc. and Facebook Ireland Ltd., which together operate the Facebook service worldwide, recently posted some proposed updates to our Data Use Policy and our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities for your review and feedback. Those updates provided more detailed information about our practices, reflected changes to our products, and modified how we conduct our site governance process.
The period for submitting your comments has ended, but you can still provide feedback on those proposals by taking part in our site governance vote. To learn more about our proposed updates (which include additional clarifications based on your comments) and the vote, please visit our Site Governance Page. Voting will end on December 10, 2012 at 12 PM (PST) / December 10, 2012 at 8 PM (GMT). We encourage you to review and vote on the proposed versions of our governance documents.

(Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Monday gave his preliminary approval to a second attempt by Facebook Inc to settle a class action lawsuit which charges the social networking company with violating privacy rights.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in California rejected a settlement in August over Facebook's 'Sponsored Stories' advertising feature, questioning why it did not award money to Facebook members for using their personal information.

But in a ruling handed down Monday, Seeborg said a revised settlement "falls within the range of possible approval as fair, reasonable and adequate."

In a revised proposal, Facebook and plaintiff lawyers said users now could claim a cash payment of up to $10 each to be paid from a $20 million total settlement fund. Any money remaining would then go to charity.

The company also said it would engineer a new tool to enable users to view content that might have been displayed in Sponsored Stories and opt out if they desire, a court document said.

If it receives final approval, the proposed settlement would resolve a 2011 lawsuit originally filed by five Facebook Inc members.

The lawsuit alleged the Sponsored Stories feature violated California law by publicizing users' "likes" of certain advertisers without paying them or giving them a way to opt out. The case involved over 100 million potential class members.

A spokesman for Facebook said the company was "pleased that the court has granted preliminary approval of the proposed settlement." Lawyers for the plaintiffs weren't immediately available for comment Monday evening.

Outside groups and class members will have a chance to object to the latest settlement before Seeborg decides whether to grant final approval. A hearing on the fairness of the deal has been set for June 28, 2013. The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is Angel Fraley et al., individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated vs. Facebook Inc, 11-cv-1726.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Michael Perry)

If you're a Facebook user, some of your friends may have recently posted a status update titled "Privacy Notice." It goes on to declare in legal-sounding language that since Facebook is now publicly traded it can make public use of your private content—and if you don't repost the statement yourself, you are giving your implicit permission.

Sadly, you cannot protect your Facebook content with a reposted status update: It's a hoax. But you can protect yourself by taking control of your privacy settings; see our step-by-step video on how to do just that.

Facebook commented on its own privacy page about the hoax:
We have noticed a recent status update that is being widely shared implying the ownership of your Facebook content has recently changed. This is not true and has never been the case. Facebook does not own your data and content.
Facebook privacy page


If you care about your privacy and that of your real friends, unfriend Facebook now. We are its product, not its customers

There is a wonderful graphic on the New York Times site showing how Facebook's privacy statement has got larger and larger to cover the growing holes in its privacy policy. The mapping isn't perfect: if it were, the declaration of Facebook's dedication to privacy would have to be of almost infinite size, since the default amount of privacy Facebook now offers is practically zero. When the site first started, very few people could join, and nothing became public, even to them, without the users' express permission. Now everyone can join and everything is public to almost all of them unless you make a determined effort to hide it. This effort has to be renewed every six months or so when Facebook revises its privacy policy to make it more opaque and less effective. There is a wonderfully graphic animation of the process at this site.

If you decide it isn't worth it, Facebook turns out to be very difficult to leave. It is very easy to "deactivate" your account, but it's also almost meaningless. Nothing is deleted by deactivation. If you return a year later, your account is still there, with the same password, the same friends and all the same data.

It is difficult to overestimate how much a Facebook user tells the company about his or her life. I've just had a friend (in real life) look me and my children up on the system. She's not a friend of either on Facebook, and both are reasonably cautious about privacy. Nonetheless, it was immediately obvious what their interests were, and each had most of their social networks listed. Ten years ago, when the British government proposed to make traffic data available to a wide variety of agencies under the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act, there was an outcry from civil libertarians. Their point was that you hardly need to know what people are saying to each other if you know who they are talking to. And now Facebook knows and makes this information freely available to almost anyone.

This may seem like a bad way to treat customers, but the whole point about Facebook is that users aren't customers. Anyone who supposes that Facebook's users are its customer has got the business model precisely backwards. Users pay nothing, because we aren't customers, but product. The customers are the advertisers to whom Facebook sells the information users hand over, knowingly or not.

Google, which collects less information about its users, is far more scrupulous about the uses to which it is put. Google also makes it much easier to remove your traces from the system. There is no equivalent on Facebook to Google's dashboard page, which shows you all the information you have made public across Google's sites; nor is it as easy to get back from Facebook information you have once put in. This isn't to diminish the extraordinary record of how we think that Google collects by simply tracking our queries, but Facebook collects more. That's what it's designed to do. The games and apps available there are an important part of this process. Almost all of these are simply devices to harvest information about players and use what they have found to sell themselves to everyone else on their contact list.

How can all or any of this be stopped? Facebook won't change. Its entire business model depends on selling privacy to advertisers. If public revulsion forces a halt, or a retreat it will start again in six months' time. This shouldn't really be surprising.

What is to be done? The kind of computing infrastructure needed to run a global service like Facebook isn't cheap, and somebody has to pay for it. Perhaps a service more ethical about privacy than Facebook is being hatched in a garage somewhere right now. It's certainly possible, as the example of Google shows.

But the fundamental problem remains. Ever since money was invented, the people who have made money out of aimless chat have been the landlords, whether they were selling beer, coffee or a space on the web. You may think that your Facebook friends care what you're up to, but they'd drop you like a stone if it cost them money to learn you had just become imaginary mayor of an imaginary town, or even that you had just had a row with your mother and slammed the phone down. The only people to whom that information is worth even a fraction of a penny are those who want to take advantage of it to sell you something you don't need – except, that is for your real friends, but imaginary ones are so much more reassuring.

No comments:

Post a Comment