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Is Facebook Privacy Just an Oxymoron?




With the box office for “The Social Network” beginning to feel the effects of everyone in the social media industry already seeing it and the likelihood that the rest of the world doesn’t care, it’s time to get back to real business for Facebook. Oftentimes, though, real business and Facebook is more about what Facebook is supposedly doing ‘to’ people rather than ‘for’ them. Today is no exception.

The Wall Street Journal is yet again calling out Facebook on continued privacy concerns

Many of the most popular applications, or “apps,” on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people’s names and, in some cases, their friends’ names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

The issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook’s strictest privacy settings. The practice breaks Facebook’s rules, and renews questions about its ability to keep identifiable information about its users’ activities secure.

The rest of the article essentially says what we already know because we follow this stuff including major app / game developers like Zynga who are getting more data than they should. Anyone who looks at what apps in the Android store are looking at when you download them should know that supplying you with fun is not the end game for most developers. Why? Because they need to make a living too so the best thing they can sell is your data.

The problem has ties to the growing field of companies that build detailed databases on people in order to track them online—a practice the Journal has been examining in its What They Know series. It’s unclear how long the breach was in place. On Sunday, a Facebook spokesman said it is taking steps to “dramatically limit” the exposure of users’ personal information.

“A Facebook user ID may be inadvertently shared by a user’s Internet browser or by an application,” the spokesman said. Knowledge of an ID “does not permit access to anyone’s private information on Facebook,” he said, adding that the company would introduce new technology to contain the problem identified by the Journal.

Wait a minute. Hasn’t Facebook been taking steps like this all along? Apparently not. It’s hard to really know what Facebook is or is not doing and where they are actually doing or not doing it. It appears as if that rule #1 in their PR department is to be sure to “Baffle them with BS” which results in no one knowing if Facebook has or has not actually done anything substantial to protect users privacy.

As for the developers of these games that are taking your data and selling it? They must either be coached by Facebook or they learn well with their coy responses to inquiries about their perceived privacy transgressions.

Defenders of online tracking argue that this kind of surveillance is benign because it is conducted anonymously. In this case, however, the Journal found that one data-gathering firm, RapLeaf Inc., had linked Facebook user ID information obtained from apps to its own database of Internet users, which it sells. RapLeaf also transmitted the Facebook IDs it obtained to a dozen other firms, the Journal found.

RapLeaf said that transmission was unintentional. “We didn’t do it on purpose,” said Joel Jewitt, vice president of business development for RapLeaf.

Do you believe that explanation? I don’t but I have adopted the approach that I will error on the side of caution when it comes to these things. In the world of online privacy it is better to take the ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach rather than the reverse.

So let’s face it. No mater how many people suck up to Mark Zuckerberg and claim that he is a nice guy who is trying to change the world blah, blah, blah (and there are seriously big industry names who like to publicly profess their admiration etc for Zuckerberg) the evidence points that underneath all the buzz, he likely has a black heart when it comes to privacy concerns.

What does that mean? It means he is playing like he cares about privacy when the company obviously doesn’t. How do I know that? I don’t but any company who continually says that they are not doing something then when they get caught with their hand in the privacy cookie jar they act all sheepish and say “We didn’t mean it” is just acting like the kid who tries to get away with everything. Always quick with the mea culpa when caught but right back at it once the interest dies down.

So don’t expect the term Facebook privacy to ever mean anything. They need your data to make money. It’s that simple. As a result do you think that Facebook and its entire ecosystem are going to just stop trying to get your data? I hope you’re not that gullible no matter how ‘nice’ the real Mark Zuckerberg is or is not.

(UPDATE: To be fair read the ‘response’ from Facebook to its developer community. I feel like it’s more PR CYA but we’ll see.)

  • http://www.SItesWithoutWalls.com Kristine S (@schachin)

    I agree. The thing is it can only be one of two things. Either the programmers are completely incompetent OR Zuckerberg makes them do it.

    My guess is exactly the same as yours to which I would tell the programmers, get a shirt that says, “Zuckerberg made me do it!” Should you ever run into those who believe it to be number 1.

    Oh and with the portability of facebook data now I suspect the words “karmic” and “what goes around” “comes around” will be very painful ones for Mr Z in the next year or so. Just one person’s opinion…..

    Thanks for the post though… always nice to have people confirm what we believe to be true.

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      @Kristine – WHile I am not a ‘karma guy’ I would like to think that something would happen as payback.

      In all honesty, though, the only thing that would actually hurt them is people leaving Facebook.

      Right now the chances of that are between slim and none and slim is leaving town as we speak. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen but it would take some real doing to unseat the Facebook monster from its perch.

  • http://www.Daxle.net Brian Oates

    I would guess most Facebook users don’t understand what’s being shared. So if you have an expectation of privacy, and then you learn otherwise, it affects your brand.

    • http://www.frankthinking.com Frank Reed

      @Brian – That is a much bigger reality than ANYONE gives credit to. The vast, vast majority of Facebook users don’t have a clue what goes on behind the scenes and they likely don’t care. Facebook is banking on this if they can get past the business backlash.

      How do I know this? Take a look at some of the stupid stuff your ‘friends’ share as if there is no harm in it. Do you really think they are paying attention to anything they do online? Not likely.

      Thanks for dropping by and chiming in.

  • Cynthia

    “Internet Privacy” is an oxymoron – I preach this over and over. You have to watch everything you say and do on the Internet. Maybe the photos of you drunk at the bachelor party won’t hurt you but they might. We keep seeing news stories about people fired from jobs and losing other privileges because of things they posted on line. And that’s just what you KNOW you’re putting up.

    As you mention, there’s a whole world of info behind the scenes that Facebook and other apps have access to. Check “keep my data private” all you like – to Facebook that just means that it doesn’t show on your profile, not that they can’t sell it to someone else.

  • http://www.bestebookreaderscompared.com/ Evelyn

    I think I heard about this last year, so it’s no suprise to me. Although one article I read said FaceBook was Selling the names. I wouldn’t doubt that either, best to claim ignorance if you get caught!

  • K Ryan

    As of this morning I have deleted my Facebook account. I am tired of being a watchdog with regard to my privacy settings, having them tight and Zuckerberg continues with his believe that privacy is passe.

    Well privacy may mean nothing to him and it definitely seems it means nothing, it certainly means something to me! If he won’t control himself and reflect respect for the users of Facebook, as in real life I prefer to deal with people who are respectful!!!!

  • http://www.inetsoft.com/products/StyleIntelligence/ BI Software Reporter

    These Facebook privacy controversies have become a game of cat and mouse. Facebook turns its head while hordes of pirating marketers run in and steal as much as they can, then they play innocent whenever anyone catches on. They lack anything in the way of business ethics and they deserve a real punishment, not just a slap on the wrist.