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Facebook briefs users on privacy in a fireside chat

Question and answer session
Wed Dec 05 2012, 15:11
A Facebook logo

A HALF HOUR QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION has given Facebook a chance to address privacy aware users that have their wind up over some changes at the social network.

The chat was a three-way and saw Sarah Feinberg, director of policy communications at Facebook running questions past Katherine Tassi, head of data protection at Facebook Ireland and Rob Sherman, Facebook's manager of privacy and public policy.

Facebook has been accused of setting fire to users' privacy rights this week and cancelling their right to vote on privacy changes. During the conversation Tassi and Sherman maintained that this was not the case.

Feinberg explained that they had all been brought together to discuss the proposed update to Facebook's data use policy and its statement of rights and responsibilities.

Sherman told us that most web firms would not involve their users in such discussions. But then not that many websites have as many users as it does, and very few would have as much data about them as Facebook does.

"We want our site governance process to be interactive," he said. "We've tried to have this be a dialogue".

The existing system is not giving the firm good feedback he added. It is giving them feedback, but it isn't specific enough. The proposed way would, he said, make feedback more substantive and give people a way of giving it "meaningful facts". He added that Facebook would combine this substantive feedback with expert input and come up with the best solution.

Tassi, whose team is responsible for bringing the Facebook data protection experience to everyone outside of the US and Canada, said that the firm will make sure that all locations are covered by all data protection rules. Facebook users have until Monday to vote on the changes.

The rest of the chat covered questions that Facebook users were sending in. Sherman, for example, was able to pitch how users could use controls in Timeline to limit their exposure, and Tassi commented on Facebook's working relationship with the Irish Data Protection Agency.

Someone asked about the inclusion of "sharing information with affiliates" terms in the data use policy. Tassi said that the provision is "standard", adding that "most companies have multiple affiliates." She said that without that right Facebook would not be able to let its Irish users communicate with American ones, for example.

Users were reminded that they are in control over their own content and can post it with protection, for example, by limiting the number of people who can see it. Sherman said that ownership of content always remains with the user.

The question of whether personal data is directly sold to advertisers was also raised. No, we were told, Facebook shows tailored adverts to people who have told it what they are interested in, which is something totally different.

Susan from Wyoming said that sometimes people post "mean things" on her daughter's page and asked what she could do about that. Sherman suggested that they turn to the reporting system at Facebook and ask for content to be removed. We would suggest that they just leave Facebook, but no one asked us.

Facebook's privacy voting is designed to be simple and people are asked to select between the existing or the revised options. Facebook encourages its users to share the fact that they voted with their Facebook peers. µ


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