Facebook Privacy Concerns Continue

I am currently working on a series of articles about the Importance of Using Social Networking for Business.  And I know I wrote that you should consider using Facebook as one means of Social Media, but recent events have me wondering and questioning my own advice.  Don’t get me wrong; I think Facebook is a great tool for making connections and a lot of fun for personal use, and can still be useful to business, but is it useful enough to ignore privacy concerns?  I report, you decide…

ABC News reported that in December of 2009, Facebook made changes to the site’s privacy policy and announced at their developer conference that these changes were intended to make the Web more social and more personalized by expanding the presence of Facebook onto other third party sites.  As a result, ABC stated, “Facebook required users to either agree to share certain limited fields of information in a more public fashion, delete that information from their profile or stop using the site.” More recently Facebook was forced to deal with a specific privacy-related incident when a technical bug on the site reportedly exposed users’ private chats and friend requests to others within their “friends” network.  This has many concerned about Facebook’s commitment to user privacy.

Originally, Facebook was a site where users could share their information only within a small circle of “friends” that they choose to connect with.  But as Facebook has grown in size with currently more than 400 million users, they are now urging their users to make their information more public.  In fact when you go to your homepage in Facebook, chances are there is a “Suggestion” to reconnect with one of your friends on Facebook that has not been very active on the social network site along with a “Get Connected” list that on my home page currently shows 4 different ways that I can connect with other users.

In response to the privacy concerns being raised against Facebook, four United States Senators, Charles Schumer of NY, Michael Bennet of CO, Mark Begich of Alaska and Al Franken of MI, joined forces and on April 27th wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting that Facebook alter its policies on privacy.  Currently Facebook information is available on third party websites without user permission.  However, the Senators want Facebook to change its provisions so that Facebook user information is kept private and can only be shared with the user’s explicit permission blocking non-Facebook websites from accessing this information.

If you read the criticisms of Facebook by some users the consensus is they feel as if Facebook set up its network under certain expectations, but have not delivered as was expected.  In fact, Senator Schumer himself said in a telephone interview with USA Today,

Facebook was set up on the whole premise that I choose my friends.  All of a sudden, they have undermined that tenet, and I think it’s really wrong.

Senator Schumer has also recently sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking for clearer privacy guidelines for all social networks including Facebook.

Facebook states that users have a lot of control over what others see from their profile.  In order to set your privacy settings you must first put each friend into one of “three levels of privacy: Friends, Friends of Friends, and Everyone.”  They also feature A Guide To Privacy on Facebook on their site with the following recommended settings.

Product Manager Austin Haugen wrote a blog post on his Facebook Blog addressing many of the common questions being asked by users in regard to using Social Plugins on third party web sites.  Recently Social Plugins were introduced to more than 75 sites.  He stated that with “social plug-ins” none of your personal information is actually shared with the sites you visit that features these plugins.  Haugen explains,

While these buttons and boxes appear on other websites, the content populating them comes directly from Facebook. The plugins were designed so that the website you are visiting receives none of this information. These plugins should be seen as an extension of Facebook.

According to Haugen, the plug-ins on third party sites, follow the same privacy settings as those that already exist on Facebook.  There are several places where you can go that you can control how information is shared on Facebook.com. In response to these many security issues, Facebook reported on May 14 the launch of a new security feature campaign where users can choose to be notified by email or text message when their account is accessed by a computer that they have never used before.  Facebook may also require the answering of personal questions when it notices unusual activity such as an account being accessed simultaneously from two different countries.  Apparently some of these features are already available and the rest are supposed to be launched over the next few weeks.

However, unless you are searching for this information, it is difficult to know exactly what settings need to be changed, where to go to change them all and to know if all of the right changes have been made.  Many users on Facebook are grandparents, and children under the age of 18.  Navigating through all of the many security settings and locations can be quite daunting for many.  In fact, Facebook Vice President of Privacy Elliot Schrage himself stated that,

It’s clear that despite our efforts, we are not doing a good enough job communicating the changes that we’re making. Even worse, our extensive efforts to provide users greater control over what and how they share appear to be too confusing for some of our more than 400 million users.

There are many different locations where you can change your settings to increase your own privacy.  But unless you do the research, or someone tells you where to go, how are you supposed to know when all of your settings are when they are not all in the same place.  For example, when you choose the “like” setting within the plugins on third party sites you can control who sees your “like” connections within your Facebook profile by editing your Friends, Tags and Connections settings.  However you will notice there is a disclaimer on this page that states:

This contradicts Facebook’s claims and the words of Haugen himself, that this information is NOT public. You can also apparently control how information is shared on Facebook by changing your Privacy Settings for Personal Information and Posts.

Haugen states in his blog that you can find these settings under “Posts by me.”   However, except for clicking on the link he provided many cannot easily locate how to get to this settings page.  Haugen also posts that you can change which connections are visible on your profile under “Things I like,” but again does not tell you how to get to these settings.   On this page he refers to Friends, Tags and Connections, which is in the Privacy settings, the disclaimer above is once again shown on this page.   On these pages you can set controls to use Friend Lists or to include or exclude specific people.  But the question in my mind is, if according to the disclaimer your information is still public, and obviously there is nothing I can do about it, why does it matter if I limit those I am connected with on Facebook when those not on Facebook can see the information anyway?

In fact, Haugen even reminds readers in his blog post that, “…even if you change your settings for what is shared or shown on Facebook, likes and recommendations made on other sites become publicly available information, similar to a public comment on a Website.”  Again I ask, “What good is changing my settings then?”

Danny Sullivan, editor of the blog SearchEngineLand, has reported increases in people searching for “how do I delete my Facebook account?”  I just did a search myself in fact, and typed, “How do I” into Google and as you can see below, without even typing in the word “delete,” How do I delete my Facebook account” was the very first thing to pop up.

Consumer Reports Magazine also has an article titled 7 Things to Stop Doing Now on Facebook. In this article the author states that you should STOP:

  1. Using a Weak Password
  2. Leaving your Full Birthdates in Your Profile
  3. Overlooking Useful Privacy Controls
  4. Posting your Child’s Name in Captions
  5. Mentioning that You’ll be Away From Home
  6. Letting Search Engines Find You
  7. Permitting Youngsters to Use Facebook Unsupervised.

So I ask you again, is this tool useful enough for your business to disregard the many issues in regard to privacy concerns? I stand by my advice in my original Facebook article.  That is, if you do choose to use Facebook to promote your business, be sure to forgo having a personal Facebook profile and share only business related information on your profile. No matter what social media you choose to use whether it is for business or for personal use, be sure to check all of your settings and know what you’re getting into. Information is a powerful tool. Do your homework and stay informed.


Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com.

Join the Discussion

4 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for vkodass]
    September 5, 2010 02:22 am

    We’ve used http://www.socialkik.com to buy a few thousands of fans for multiple facebook pages and they always over delivered on the number of fans that we purchased by up to 30% of extra fans. After the Socialkik campaigns were over, newer visitors to our Facebook page are more willing to become a fan than before, because they see that it’s being liked by over 10,000 of other fans.

  • [Avatar for Renee C. Quinn]
    Renee C. Quinn
    May 20, 2010 01:50 pm


    First, I love your handle. Very clever. Second, I agree with you on the privacy concerns. The only reason I still have my account is because it has allowed me to get in contact with friends of the past and family that I have not seen in a long time. I think that is why so many people continue to maintain their accounts. But I will not and suggest to others that they not put anything too personal on their pages. You have to remember, anything you put there can be seen by the public. And of course, I still love Farmville. The reason I point these things out is that these types of things are what is going to keep Facebook alive. Hopefully they will make the necessary changes to protect their 400 million members they currently have.

    Thank you for reading.


  • [Avatar for TwoFacedbook]
    May 19, 2010 04:16 pm

    This company just seems to get more morally & legally slippery as time goes on.

    They’ve turned “privacy” into an oxymoron when it comes to their site and operations.

    I’ll never open an account.


  • [Avatar for Dave Lucas]
    Dave Lucas
    May 19, 2010 03:10 pm

    Two interesting facebook articles are posted on my blogspot: one has a link so that you can determine how safe your facebook info is. The other is one of the “how to delete” guides!