Facebook and User Privacy: Some Unexpected Changes

Two recent Facebook privacy changes have been in the news – and they bring both good and bad news for Facebook users and privacy advocates.

FIRST, Facebook changed its default sharing option to “friends only.”  Previously, when new users created a Facebook account, the default privacy setting was to share anything and everything you posted to the “public,” which included over 1 billion Facebook users worldwide, and required the user to opt-in to private-only posting.
Here is a rundown of the actual changes that were made:

1. New users accounts start with the default of sharing posts to “friends only”

2. Facebook now has a “friendly privacy dinosaur” that pops up for first-time posters, letting them know they have choices for who they want to share their post and that the default setting is to share with “friends only”

3. The privacy dinosaur also pops up for those who haven’t changed their share settings in a while to remind them of their options and alert them of what exactly “public” means when sharing.

Facebook’s original highly public privacy policy appears to have been geared toward stimulating online interaction.  The more people see, the logic goes, the more they share and the more they post.   It is no secret, moreover, that Facebook financially benefits from this massive data collection through more effective (and therefore more expensive) targeted advertisements.  This premise, however, seems to have been proven incorrect.  People simply don’t want public post private or semi-private thoughts and things.

The new “private” posting model banks on the notion that people who feel protected and private are more likely to share, and sharing within a small group is better than not sharing at all for Facebook’s data collection enterprises. The new tracking model leverages this increase in private sharing to create better, more personalized advertisements for users – and of course more money for Facebook.

SECOND,  Facebook also announced the creation of a far more sophisticated tracking system that will track user’s application and browsing history on all websites in order to create better targeted advertisements.   This system opts users in by default.

These privacy policy changes  of course come with additional risks.  For example, earlier this year, two individuals brought suit against Facebook for selling data from private messages to third parties.   The expanded tracking policy and a new “friends only” default for posts may very well inspire similar lawsuits in the future.  Users, moreover, may shy away from Facebook and its seemingly cavalier attitude towards people’s private information.
For now, the legal ramification are to be determined.  For some, more targeted advertisement will come as a nice surprise.  For others, however, the thought of Facebook mining their browser history might seem overly intrusive and downright scary.

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