What a Tangled Web FB Weaves

Posted on December 17, 2009


So a few months ago I attend a Web Security Conference (WebLock) sponsored by FDLE (Fla. Dept. Law Enforcement) and after listening to a presentation about security and social media, I confirm my fears.  Those warnings from my boyfriend, and my own nagging feelings about Facebook sharing  information about me  and without me really knowing.  See, the settings eluded me as they do for most people.  So that night I cancelled my FB account. But then I get a message: C’mon back anytime! Just log in & we’ll be waiting with your page.  Wot?!  I cancelled, just delete my page!  Why does it have to sit on a server somewhere?  My information is like a fly stuck in some evil digital web.

Ok, now fast forward to December.  New Privacy Settings… stories on CNN, the newspaper, TV.  Then today, I see this post on Mashable about a complaint filed with the FTC.  I start reading the complaint document posted out of curiosity.  What strikes me is this statement right in the introduction: “Facebook’s changes to users’ privacy settings disclose personal information to the public that was previously restricted.”  It goes on to add more to the plot: “…to third parties not previously available.”  While it may be ‘legal,’ I have to agree with the complaint that it goes against user expectations. 

Most people are used to privacy statements for everything: websites, credit card companies and even at our doctor’s offices.  When changes are made, we are notified in advance.  Again, I have not gone back into my account, however it does seem unfair that I would log in one day to find out that all my previously ‘private’ information has now automatically been switched ‘on’ and my personal life has become part of the firehose that is spewing from Facebook’s servers.  All this without forewarning and without my permission. 

I thought we lived in a society that understood online privacy.  With HIPAA, anti-spam laws, etc., we can opt-out and no one can send us junk mail unless we’ve done business with them or ‘opted-in.’ Facebook has not been transparent about privacy from the start. 

I think it will be the small thread that will eventually be its un-doing.  With people losing their jobs over what’s published on Facebook, I think turning on the hose to satisfy advertisers is greedy, self-centered and short-sighted.  Facebook should concentrate on building trust with its community.  The complaint calls the recent changes “deceptive.”  I would add “unethical.” It is truly a tangled web that Facebook is weaving and I’m not so sure that it can come out of this one if the FTC confirms the deception.