Thursday, December 10, 2009

Facebook faces criticism over privacy change

Facebook the popular social networking site is facing criticism from privacy campaigners and civil liberties groups who say an update to Facebook users' profile settings pushes members to share personal information The changes, which were announced last week and are now rolling out across the site, asks users to review their privacy settings, and adjust them to ensure they are only sharing personal information, videos and photos with the people they want.

However, campaigners say this "transition tool" is "nudging" Facebook's 350 million users towards creating more open profiles, with details and information that can be viewed by anyone. "Facebook is nudging the settings toward the 'disclose everything' position," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in the United States. "That's not fair from the privacy perspective."

The changes mean that Facebook users will be able to decide how much their status updates, photos, videos and other personal data are shared with other Facebook users outside their network. It will also dictate whether any of this data is shared beyond Facebook, making it viewable across the broader web. In October, Facebook signed a deal with Microsoft's search engine, Bing, so that public status updates could be included in Bing's real-time search results.

Campaigners have criticised Facebook for requiring that certain personal information, including a person's gender and the city they live in, is made publicly viewable to all, rather than just to friends. They also said that the layout of the transition tool, which would make all messages viewable to everyone, unless the user specifically chose to retain their current settings, was misleading. "These new 'privacy' changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before," said a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which campaigns for Internet rights. "Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data."

The site's 350 million users are now being given the chance to alter settings on items they upload to the site, such as photographs and videos, but all of their status updates are now automatically made public unless specified otherwise. For those unable to access the site because of Internet blocks in some countries such as Iran and China, the position is unclear. Facebook has been blocked by government censors since June 2009. The reasoning behind the restrictions is not entirely clear but it has angered expats, holiday makers and Chinese citizens alike. The user base in the last six months has dropped from nearly 1 million to only a few thousand as only paid VPNs [Virtual Private Network] gives accessibility to such sites.

Some expats have continued to update their Facebook page by sending photos by email, but it is not known if these posts will be made public from now on. It is probable the changes won't take effect unless a user physically signs in and proceeds through the new settings, however this cannot be confirmed at this time.

Nicole Ozer, the ACLU's technology and civil liberties policy director, said, "Before the recent changes, you had the option of exposing only a "limited" profile, consisting of as little as your name and networks, to other Facebook users—and nothing at all to Internet users at your profile picture, current city, friends list, gender, and fan pages are 'publicly available information', which means you have no way to prevent any other Facebook user from viewing this information on your profile".

Facebook have responded by saying that users could make some simple adjustments to their profiles such as leaving the gender and city fields blank in order to ensure that information was not publicly available. A spokesman for the social-networking site also said that with the new privacy settings, users could restrict who has access to a particular message or piece of content every time they post something to Facebook, making the recommended default setting less relevant.

"Any suggestion that we're trying to trick them into something would work against any goal that we have," said a Facebook spokesman. He said that Facebook was recommending that posts were viewable by all other users because such open sharing of information was consistent with "the way the world is moving".

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

No comments: