Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Is there Privacy on Facebook?

The internet has always posed privacy concerns, and Facebook is no exception. Searching the term “privacy” on Facebook’s search engine will generate over 500 groups that discuss everything from third party information sharing to the right to free speech. Included in these groups, is a note that has been circulating through “friends” which includes allegations that Facebook is connected to the Central Intelligence Agency and that Facebook is selling user information through a development platform.

Facebook’s Privacy Policy, which you accept by using or accessing Facebook, is probably not being read by a majority of users, which may be causing the confusion and hype. One research paper indicated that approximately 80% of facebook users have never read the privacy policy in spite of the fact that another paper indicated that 61% of users are “quite concerned” about privacy on the site. The same paper provides information on how to download vast amounts of data from Facebook and indicates that other persons have previously used the site to download information for various purposes.

While somewhat extensive, Facebook's privacy policy leaves many questions unanswered. To assist in clarifying misconceptions, here’s a brief summary of Facebook’s privacy policies:

1. A user has the option of inviting friends by email. Facebook keeps a copy of any email address that is used for invite purposes so that they may track the success of their referral program. You have the option of requesting that they remove this information from their system by contacting them.

2. Facebook may collect information about you from other sources (websites, links, blogs etc). They do so for the purposes of creating more “personalized features” for users.

3. Facebook will not knowingly collect information from anyone under the age of 13, or knowingly allow them to register. They recommend that minors between the ages of 13 and 18 obtain parental consent before registering.

4. Facebook blocks access to site information by third party search engines (“crawlers”). Accordingly, if someone googles your name, they should not be able to obtain a link to your user profile.

5. Facebook may use the information in your profile without identifying you as an individual to third parties. They do so for the purposes of personalizing advertising and promotions to users.

6. Facebook shares information with third parties only in “limited circumstances” where they believe such sharing is “reasonably necessary to offer the service”, “legally required” or “permitted by you”.

7. Facebook may share information with 3rd parties to facilitate business. This may allow 3rd parties access to your user content for a limited time in “connection with business activities”.

8. Third party advertisers may deliver advertisements directly to users. This allows them to collect your IP address and recognize your computer each time an advertisement is sent to you.

9. Removed information from your account, or deactivated accounts may be kept in backup copies for a “reasonable period” of time.

10. Facebook staff may access your user content if they have reason to believe you are violating the policies or terms of the site.

11. Facebook does not sell your information.

Facebook has also created a Facebook Platform which allows certain applications and sites to access your user content in a “limited fashion”. A list of these applications and sites is available through the Facebook Platform component of a user’s privacy settings. A user can choose to uncheck any information they do not was shared through the platform.

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has several times stated that Facebook is not “harvesting” information for any group or government agency. However, doubts remain, specifically with reference to numbers 6 and 7 listed above.

If like me, you’re a facebooker who is not quite ready to walk away from the site regardless of privacy issues, it is a good idea to both review Facebook’s privacy policy in full and ensure that your privacy settings are at a level that is comfortable for you.

The site’s extensive list of privacy settings, include who may search your name, and who can access specific information on your profile from your wall, to your photos, to your status updates. You can also create a limited profile, restricting certain people’s access to certain information. In light of the above, these privacy settings a certainly worth examination by every facebook user.

In addition to reviewing Facebook’s policies and available security settings, it is imperative to remember, that as stated in their privacy policy “You post user content at your own risk…please be aware that no security measures are perfect or impenetrable”.

Indeed. Even Facebook can’t be perfect.
- Annie Noa Kenet, Toronto
Visit our Website:

Post a Comment