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Bad week for Facebook privacy

Probably won't improve
Fri May 07 2010, 12:53

SOCIAL NOTWORKING Facebook users just have to face that they aren't likely to get the privacy some might want, and that's not even counting the problems that are coming up with its security controls.

This week the INQUIRER reported that Facebook privacy doesn't exist due to the fact that it uses recommendation engines that track who you contact as well as what you like and what you buy.

Now EPIC has filed a complaint with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that accuses Facebook of "unfair and deceptive trade practices" by disclosing information about users that they hadn't previously made public.

For example, you might have noticed that you have automatically been made a fan of all the stuff that you might have once indicated that you were interested in. This could be embarrasing to some Facebook users, and it might also be a major issue if you don't like joining groups.

This complaint has been taken seriously by the FTC, which said that "these changes violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook's own representations".

Not only that, the complaint also takes a dim view of Facebook giving out users' personal information to companies like Microsoft, Yelp and Pandora without first obtaining their consent.

This includes information concerning employment history, education, location, and hometown, as well as film , music and reading preferences.

And this isn't the first time Facebook has been criticised for doing something similar. It triggered a firestorm of protest with Beacon three years ago, where it disclosed personal information, including video purchases and rentals, without users' knowledge or permission.

You'd think that would have been enough to make Facebook get its lawyers involved. But no, there was even more trouble this week. You'd also think that if Facebook was going to store its users' private data then it would have proper security controls in place.

Not a chance. There was a major security flaw discovered that permits Facebook users, with a few mouse clicks and a simple trick, to access the live chats of their friends, as well as their latest friend requests.

And funnily enough, the exploit was enabled by the way Facebook lets you preview your own privacy settings.

That wasn't the only security flaw that Facebook suffered this week. New Facebook social features were also shown to have added unwanted applications to some user profiles.

Some of these problem have been fixed, but an operation as large as Facebook shouldn't have let them happen in the first place.

But it is getting more and more the case that in order to be a Facebook user and benefit from its social networking capabilities, you have to give up your privacy. The company has made it clear enough that it will disregard its users' privacy in order to expand its business model.

Perhaps the only way to make Facebook respect its users' information privacy will be if the majority of Facebook users vote with their feet and leave, unless it gets sued or the FTC cracks down on it first. µ



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