Facebook and Privacy (or lack there of…)

I woke up early this morning and as I was listening to the quiet sleeping breathing of the rest of my family I decided to check in with the rest of the world on Facebook. As I was going through my newsfeed, I came across this status update from a Penny Schwartz:

Facebook | Penny Siegel Swartz
Here we go again, Facebook is expanding their “partner” connections and by default releasing information about you most likely without a users knowledge or intent.  Personally, I interact the majority of the time with Facebook via my iPhone. I am in the company of more that 25% of Facebook’s current 400M users. Over 100M users access the service from a mobile device:

Facebook_ Facts, Figures & Statistics For 2010 | Digital Buzz Blog
When your primary interactions with Facebook is through a mobile platform, you don’t get pushed messages regarding updates and changes to privacy information / policies… for that matter, I am not aware of a time that Facebook sent out an email regarding privacy changes to its service… does anyone else? Should this be a part of the social responsibility of a social networking site or any site that works to leverage their constituent population to drive revenue?

As I went to look into these new privacy settings from my MacBookPro, I was greeted with this message:


Here is the first indicator that something has changed… Clicking “Learn More” brings you to the latest edition of Facebook’s ever growing help site. I’ll get to this in a minute. First, there were some other new privacy things that I tripped across I thought were interesting.

A bit of background. I have blogged a few times in the past about changes in Facebook and its decided lack on interest in user privacy as well as other online privacy concerns:


Since I appear to be watching this invasion of privacy issue somewhat closely, I have often gone into my personal profile privacy settings to ensure that I am only releasing information that I want. Or so I thought… Honestly, I was somewhat shocked to fine more “leaks” into my personal information, status updates, videos, photos, and other personal data points that I “thought” were protected. The best way I can think of to highlight some of this is to walk you through the process I went through while looking into the “Instant Personalization” benefit that Facebook just rolled out… and a picture is worth 1000 words right?


First we need to get into your account settings: (Note: clicking on the images below will provide a full sized screen shot)

In the upper right-had corner of the browser, click on Account and Privacy Settings:


Click on Applications and Websites:

Facebook | Privacy Settings
First we will look at the new Instant Personalization “FEATURE” FB just rolled out… Click on “Instant Personalization Pilot Program”

Facebook | Privacy Settings-1Now while many people use the new partner services, docs.com, Pandora, and Yelp.com I am still concerned with Facebook’s default “opt in” practices…

Facebook | Privacy Settings-3
While I understand that Facebook is a huge benefit and avenue for social interaction that is being provided to the end user for free, and that to maintain this type of structure requires a huge financial investment, I continue to be amazed by the complete lack of regard for individuals personal privacy. Look at some of the underlined wording above:

Please keep in mind that if you opt out, your friends may still share public Facebook information about you to personalize their experience on these partner sites unless you block the application. Learn more.“

So, as I was unchecking my “Instant Personalization” allow feature, look closely at the wording on the “Are you SURE?” window:

Facebook | Privacy Settings-4

“If you opt-out, you will manually have to activate these experiences.” 

Well yes, and that is the way it should be… and there is more:

“Please keep in mind that if you opt-out, your friends may still share public Facebook information about you… unless you block the application” 

Um… There are over 500,000 active applications (with 250M active users) and 80,000 websites leveraging a link to/into Facebook? If this a true possibility that you can block each and every one? I feel that I can safely bet that Google is trolling them as well…

I decided to check back on some other things I saw in the Applications and Websites page of Facebook’s privacy settings, and here is something else that caused my eyes to open wide:

Facebook | Privacy Settings-5
Hmmm… What can my friends share about me?

Facebook | Privacy Settings-2
Now because of my occasional public speaking, and obviously this blog, you can imagine that I am a bit more “available” with personal and some private information about myself and my family… however, I was concerned to see that even if I am not using a Facebook application, but a friend is, my status updates (which I restrict to only friends) can be made public… so can my photos, videos, and everything else you see checked in the image above. By the way I did NOT check ANY of those boxes.  This is the way I found these settings. I find it interesting what FB decided NOT to check… “relationship details” and “religious and political views” but my Personal information, Statuses and Birthday appear to be fair game…

As you are considering this information, I encourage you to take your privacy to heart.  Many of you who will read this are educators, business people, family members… many post information intended to be kept only in a broad circle of “friends”… many post thoughts, ideas, and general silliness that when taken out of context can potentially be harmful to your family, your career, and your life in general. I am not suggesting to censor yourself any more than your natural instinct. But, I would encourage you to take a firm hold of your privacy and the social services you leverage to ensure what you share is intended and gets only to the audience YOU wish it to…

A second encouragement I would like to express would be for you to let Facebook, MySpace, and everyone else know your privacy should not be taken lightly nor abused for their financial gain. Changes or enhancements to their bottom line should ALWAYS be OPT-IN not OPT OUT! If you go to the Facebook help center you can provide feedback that I hope will change these policies.

Facebook | Your Connect Suggestion

Here is a suggestion for some possible language when providing feedback:


When changing or expanding your partner programs, please STOP defaulting the settings to automatically ALLOW the release of personal information (or any information) from a persons profile or account.  These programs should be opt IN not out by the very nature that they are invasive and exposing publicly information without a users express permission.



I continue to hope that social networks expand their social responsibility to their users.



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