On Internet Privacy: Facebook Passes the Ball to Users

FacebookLogo2Several companies that offer location-based services were asked to appear before the Federal Communications Commission so that they may address the privacy concerns that the service in question has brought up. Among those companies, of course, is our dear friend Facebook. Others included Google, Verizon, and Foursquare.

Each company had a representative, and they were asked whether or not their location-based services provided enough protection to the users in regards to keeping the data private. Can they truly enjoy the feature without having to worry about their safety? Ever so confident, all the representatives answered in the affirmative. Are we supposed to take their word for it, then? I doubt it.

Their answers left much to be desired. Facebook’s representative, for example, practically passed the ball to the users when it comes to Internet privacy. He reasoned that the users always have the choice to delete any check-ins that they don’t wish to show to the public. For example, if a friend of yours tagged you in a place that you do not desire to make known, then you can simply untag yourself from the post.

Then again, for that strategy to work, you’ll have to be glued to the social network 24/7 – which, when you think about it, is exactly what Zuckerberg and his little buddies would want. The unwanted post could be there all day, free for anyone and everyone to see, and you wouldn’t know it until you log in. The problem with Facebook, which has been mentioned time and again, is that it automatically assumes that people want in on their new features. They don’t bother to ask for permission, just rolls in new features without preamble, when what they should be doing is to ask people whether they want to try the new feature in the first place.

Facebook’s excuse for this is that people won’t be able to enjoy the site to its fullest if they have to ask for permission. Anyway, if they don’t like it, they can always opt out and change their privacy settings. The thing is, they can always put up some notices informing people about the new feature when they roll it out. In fact, they can make it so that it’s impossible to miss these notices. Then, if the user’s really interested, then he or she can opt in. This is what you’d really call putting privacy into the hands of the users.

In the end, it all boils down to respect. Does Facebook respect its users? I think not. “The Hallmark of privacy is user control”, said Facebook’s representative at the hearing. If they truly believe that, then they should hand over that control and allow users to decide whether they want to opt in.

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