What Is Facebook Doing With Your Data?
Facebook, the social networking giant with more than 600 million active users (as well as having earned the distinction of the most visited website on the Internet) has had its share of privacy scares in the past; it’s ever-changing Terms of Service policy can make it difficult to keep your private data safe and secure. Which begs the question: what, exactly, does Facebook do with your data?
As it turns out, quite a lot.
In January of this year, Facebook announced in its developer blog that it would be allowing the third parties that develop its partner applications to access users’ home address and telephone information, though these parties can only obtain this data if users give them explicit permission to do so. Facebook temporarily suspended this feature just three days later after — after the inevitable public outcry — but decided to move forward with the plan in February. Due to the controversial nature of the move, Facebook has also said it is “actively considering” whether to restrict users that are under 18 from sharing the data.
IT security firms now warn users to remove all personal information from their profiles, lest rogue applications with malicious intent — like spammers and those that illegally trade in credit card information — take hold of your data.
It’s not much of a secret that major networks can sell your private information to advertisers, but some consider Facebook’s policies particularly egregious when it comes to the practice.
In 2008, Facebook launched “Engagement Ads,” which would prompt users to interact with a targeted ad once they login (such as “like” a product or RSVP for a movie) and then grant marketers access to what users did with that information, as well as share it with friends to get it in front of “more eyeballs.”
To add fuel to the outrage, in 2010, Facebook announced that it would automatically opt users into a kind of mini-Facebook connect on third-party websites in order to “personalize” your online experience. Basically, this means that advertisers and Facebook partners have access to your unique “cookie,” and use that information to display information about your friends and their actions on the site (such as having “liked” a company.) The websites also have the ability to share this information with “everyone,” which is the default setting on Facebook. These sites now have access to your profile and can access your name, profile picture, gender, city, networks, friend list, likes/interests, and fan pages.
Moreover, even if you choose to deactivate your account, Facebook still retains your data in case you choose to re-enable it, which caused a privacy uproar in 2009 when its Terms of Service was once again changed. (Basically, Facebook has the right to freely use information you leave out in the open, even after you close your account.) Even if you delete your account, your comments and messages to friends will be left in tact.
Many are concerned about the selling of users’ private information without their consent — so much so that even Congress has gotten involved.
Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, wants to investigate data-mining and protect consumers at the same time; he’ll be introducing a bill in congress later this year that will require companies to let you know that you’re private information is secure, and allow you to opt out of providing the information in the first place. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will begin hearings on March 16, 2011 to try to prevent consumer harm.
In 2010, 14 privacy and consumer advocate groups filed a complaint with the FTC against Facebook.