Harvard Researchers: Facebook’s Privacy Policies Have Become Much Worse

facebook-privacyTwo Harvard undergraduates published a study last week showing that Facebook’s privacy policies have gradually become much worse since the site’s founding in 2004.

The students, Jennifer Shore and Jill Steinman, reviewed old copies of Facebook’s privacy policies from 2005 to 2015. They then ranked each of the site’s privacy policies from 0 to 4, with 0 indicating that a policy didn’t meet a basic privacy criteria and 4 indicating that it was fully met. Overall, the students found a decline in 22 of the 33 standards they measured, including whether the site described the Internet monitoring technologies it used, whether the site disclosed the external use of your personal data, and whether or not the policy clearly described how users could change or better control their own privacy settings.

The research also found that Facebook’s privacy standards dropped precipitously in 2009 after making a brief rebound, and with Facebook’s massive growth since then, any kind of marked improvement seems unlikely.

“Our findings suggest decreased accountability and transparency in Facebook’s privacy policy over time, including the part of the policy referring to personal data that the company may share with third parties,” the students wrote.

While it certainly seemed in the moment like each Facebook privacy policy became more confusing and less helpful, it’s still shocking to see the decline spelled out in such a clear-cut manner.