Facebook privacy policy anything but private

By Ross Hettel

There was much hullaballoo a few weeks ago about Google’s new privacy policy.

While I’m glad there is concern about a company making changes to its privacy policy, I’m not sure it’s enough.

In the social network industry, the primary product is, well, people. Or as one of my personal heroes, Cory Doctorow, puts it: “When the product is free, you are the product.”

He was referring to Facebook at the time, and it makes for such a great example.

Last week Facebook faced a lot of press from a report by the The Sunday Times in London that suggested its Android application reads users’ text messages. Without full access to the source code, we may never know for sure. But Facebook has expressed profusely that it does not read your messages, leaving everyone’s fear misplaced.

Don’t start relaxing yet.

About a year ago, Facebook had big problems with app developers collecting and selling users phone numbers and addresses. Remember that time when you woke up from that crazy weekend, got online and saw that cute girl, who’s number you got, staring back at you as a “suggested friend?”

Facebook isn’t a great predictor at your future relationships; rather, it uploads your phone’s contact list to their servers and parses it to see whose number you’ve added lately.

Now a lot of what Facebook collects this information for is their targeted ads they sell. That’s how they know I’d sure love to check out used sports cars for sale and single nerdy ladies at the same time. It’s uncanny.

Without a lot of oversight, there can be a slippery slope. For example, the FBI announced it is looking to develop a tool to monitor and collect information from social networks.

Make no mistake, we’re right in the middle of some pretty big changes to the status quo. The Internet of the past was an anonymous collection of data and mostly read-only. The Internet that Facebook envisions is the opposite. Everyone is identifiable; users are expected to add content, and those users broadcast to others.

And the way we move into this new vision of the Internet is by choice and convenience. Even if you’re the most cautious individual, it’s easy to think there’s nothing to worry about posting how great that movie was. Do this a couple hundred times, and now Facebook has you lumped into the category of “moviegoer” and is serving up ads from specific movie production companies.

I think one way to buck this trend is to stop undervaluing our privacy. We should stop giving it up so easily.