Facebook fails on personal privacy

For more than a year, Facebook has been under fire for its capricious privacy practices.

Last year the Wall Street Journal reported on the sharing of Facebook users’ information, without their knowledge or consent:

Many of the most popular applications, or “apps,” on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people’s names and, in some cases, their friends’ names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

Then, a few days ago I saw this rather alarming post on Facebook from a friend:

Today, the new FB privacy setting called “instant personalization” goes into effect. The new setting shares your data with non-Facebook sites and is automatically set to “enabled.” Go to Account>Privacy>Settings>Apps & Websites>Instant Personalization>edit settings and uncheck “unable.” BTW, if your friends don’t do this, they will be sharing info about you as well.

And today, I read that marketers are now mining Facebook users’ “likes” and posts for use as testimonials:

Facebook users who check in to a store or click the “like” button for a brand may soon find those actions retransmitted on their friends’ pages as a “Sponsored Story” paid for by advertisers.

Currently there is no way for users to decline this feature.

That last sentence caught my eye. To “decline” something, don’t you have to be given the choice?

And that sums up my beef: Increasingly, Facebook isn’t giving its users a choice.

We often bemoan other countries’ restrictions of free speech (such as Egypt’s Internet shut-down amid this week’s massive protests). But isn’t restriction of privacy just the other side of that coin? Either way, it comes down to having a choice: Just as we should be able to choose what we see, we should also be able to choose what we show.

If you’re a Facebook user and are at all concerned about your privacy, I recommend reading up on the “top 10” privacy settings. Oh, yeah … and be careful what you post.

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