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Facebook’s privacy labyrinth by Xan Pearson @XanPearson

Facebook’s privacy labyrinth by Xan Pearson @XanPearson

Facebook Privacy

Under intense scrutiny from media and blogs regarding its privacy policy, Facebook has faced a maelstrom of bad public relations in the last few weeks. In my previous post, Social Media Privacy is an Oxymoron, I briefly discussed the concern with Facebook’s convoluted privacy policy and the need for increased regulatory guidelines. While users of social networks need to use discretion when sharing any information, it doesn’t absolve social networking sites from an obligation to properly notify and explain policy changes in a language easily understood by all users.  When a user signs a terms of service agreement, there is a responsibility on the part of both parties.  Facebook, at the very least, should allow users the choice to “opt-in” to an application that will automatically change their personal privacy settings, rather than put the onus on the user to decipher confusing language and an intricate series of clicks to get back to where they were in the first place.

There were two great articles in the New York Times regarding Facebook’s complicated maze to opting-out of “instant personalization”.  This infographic shows the complexity of steps a user must go through to retain original privacy settings and bar 3rd party websites access to information.  Another article,  goes further to explain that after completing the process, a user’s private information may still be revealed. Summary:

  1. A privacy policy longer than the U.S. Constitution.
  2. Users are forced to click over 50 buttons, with 170 additional setting options, to protect information previously set as “private”.
  3. Despite mastering the maze to opt-out, some information is still accessible to outside websites.

Of the 400 million users on Facebook, approximately 52 million are minors. “Instant Personalization” is difficult for any user to decipher, let alone a juvenile. How many of these users will actually take the time to navigate the Facebook privacy labyrinth? What percentage of parents is aware of the new policy and that their children’s personal information will be shared with 3rd party websites?

Takeaway: Just as the user must adhere to a service agreement, social networking sites have a responsibility to explain policies in a manner users, particularly those under the age of 18, can understand and protect established privacy settings.

10 New Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know (G-Rated Version) from Nick O’Neill on Vimeo.

As marketers what responsibility do we have to ensure we are not seen as taking advantage of these kinds of situations, if any? Add your comments!

  • Profile:  A sports sponsorship marketing and community relations executive for the youth programs of two professional sports teams, Xan has over twenty years of experience in business development, marketing, and sales. Through an impressive and diverse career in business development and marketing within a variety of industries including corporate finance, retail, non-profit, publishing, and sports, Xan has learned that regardless of the industry, there are inherent principles for successful marketing and business development strategies. As a sports sponsorship director, she creates sponsorship brand marketing and experiential promotions for her corporate clients.
  • Website:  http://www.xanpearson.com
  • Twitter:   http://www.twitter.com/XanPearson
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Your thoughts here
  1. Excellent Post!

    I agree wholeheartedly that a site that has minor users should follow an ‘opt in to share’ policy rather than asking users to continuously follow increasingly more convoluted steps to maintain privacy.

    FB’s 5,000+ word privacy policy reminds me of the old PR practice of drowning people in paper and words to create the illusion that you are active or acting on something while in fact your goal is to hide or obfuscate as much as possible…

    It seems that with the latest tweaks and changes they have crossed a line and the outcry is now reaching a critical mass. Google’s admission on Friday that they collected far more information with Street View than previously acknowledged, will only add fuel to the fire over online privacy – or lack thereof. Good, let’s hope officials, like Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, can use the opportunity to drive for enhanced protections – which will unfortunately remain limited. I think we’ve seen enough to know that whatever you transmit or transact online is not really protected or truly off-limits…

  2. Cool post Xan,

    The nytimes infographic makes blatant the trend here. Facebook Privacy is becoming increasingly complicated. 2005 the privacy policy was just over 1,000 words, and now it is over 5,000 words long. CEO Mark Zuckerberg states on his Facebook that he is “trying to make the world a more open place.”

    For those of us who are not minors there one way to not be bothered by eroding privacy is to be more open. Most people are not “peeping Tom’s” and by giving new people a chance to know us there is much to be gained.

    But Facebook is boldly pushing openness and Zuckerberg is pissing people off.

    Here’s a list of articles voicing anger at Facebook’s rogue attitude towards privacy, courtesy of Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis, from his scathing post: http://calacanis.com/2010/05/12/the-big-game-zuckerberg-and-overplaying-your-hand/

    Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline

    Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook

    Yet another Facebook privacy risk: emails Facebook sends leak user IP address

    A Stunning Infographic on Facebook’s scary privacy evolution

    Facebook’s “Posts By Everyone” Feature: Do People Realize They’re
    Sharing To The World?

    Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative | Epicenter |

    Senators Call Out Facebook On ‘Instant Personalization’, Other Privacy Issues

    Facebook’s email days: “I’m CEO bith@#$%!”

    Facebook’s new features secretly add apps to your profile

    The Day Facebook Stole My Page

    Facebook is Dying – Social is Not

    Facebook’s “Evil Interfaces” | Electronic Frontier Foundation

    The trend here is clear. People are mad, but I don’t think many will quit Facebook.

    I think we will find that even as Facebook privacy diminishes, it’s user base will grow.

    However since Facebook is a closed platform by default fighting to become open, I do not think it will grow as fast as alternatives like Twitter, where openness is the standard.

    • I agree Garin…the natives are restless.

      The pattern always repeats this way it seems. Small start up with a good idea and bold new ideas steps into quicksand when trying to leverage the power of the collected data. And make no mistake, data is the gold in dem der hills. It’s not really a phenomenon only of social networks and it’s not new. It seems to happen so often where the heartbeat (community) is the core focus.

      The web is driven by communities — without them it’s just one big strip-mall with infinite parking. I’ve personally been through this kind of experience professionally working with online communities. I’ve done it right and I’ve done it very wrong. As an observer, I’ve seen it done mostly the latter way as well, unfortunately.

      Any change will affect a community in a negative way if they don’t feel you sought their input and your communication was unclear — meaning a two way communication.

      If the leadership of FB chooses to view this as simple “change anxiety”, then they’ll be in real trouble.


      Jim Ducharme
  3. I quite agree Xan. You can’t use the defense of: “you signed the ToS so, you should have read it”, if you make the thing so convoluted that it gives people ice cream headaches trying to understand it.

    Forcing people to opt out in situations such as this is really admitting that your PR and general community management has failed or is not up to the task of enticing people to participate. If there’s value and relevancy, why wouldn’t many opt in?

    This is akin to digging a tiger pit for social networking fans then when it’s full, tossing in some lions.


    Jim Ducharme
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