Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

In the mix

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

What Facebook Quizzes Know About You (ReadWriteWeb)

Facebook Ratchets Up Privacy Controls (Again)

Ole Miss to Tweet Its Watts (CNET News)

Does talking about privacy make people less willing to share?

Thursday, July 16th, 2009


Security guru Bruce Schneier recently blogged about some studies that seem to show people are more willing to share personal information when they’re not reminded that their information will be kept private.

As many of the commenters pointed out, one of the studies was skewed by the fact that people were given a fun-sounding, casual survey, and then one from an institution that might actually do something with the answers. The genius of Facebook and other social networking sites is that they’ve made people feel that social networking is as casual and non-threatening as a stupid online quiz, when those of us who care about privacy know that all the information we’re providing on those sites could be used to hack into email accounts, could adversely affect employment opportunities, etc., etc.

If you look at a service like, though, which requires the user to link their financial accounts, you can see that the promises around anonymity, privacy, and security are much more upfront.  Facebook may have a marketing incentive to bury their privacy tools; Mint does not.

So the issue to me seems to be, how do we get people to realize that their data on Facebook is as important as their data in Mint?  And who exactly is behind those, “What kind of underwear are you?” quizzes on Facebook, given that they get access to the users’ Facebook profiles, and what they want to do with that data?

In the mix

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Online participatory study of bipolar disorder.  (MoodChart)

The Day Facebook Changed Forever. (ReadWriteWeb)

Unhealthy Accounting of the Uninisured. (Wall Street Journal)

Intellectual property and privacy: where they intersect

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Creative Commons recently launched a Creative Commons license application for Facebook.  You can now download a Creative Commons license and declare your willingness to share your photos, videos, and even status updates.

For those who aren’t intellectual property geeks, Creative Commons is nonprofit organization that’s worked hard to change the norm around intellectual property law.  In a world where music companies crack down on kids on YouTube videos singing copyrighted songs, Creative Commons has made sharing of intellectual property something the cool kids want to do.  It’s created different licenses by which you can indicate how you’re willing for your work to be used, as long as it’s attributed to you.  Do a search for “Creative Commons” on Flickr, and you’ll see there are lots of people who want to increase what’s in the public domain.

This news is fascinating to me for a couple of reasons.  First, as ReadWriteWeb points out, how will the Creative Commons licenses interact with Facebook’s terms of use, by which Facebook has “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook”?  Right now, you can control who you share with within Facebook.  Facebook, however, controls how your information is shared outside of Facebook, whether with marketers and advertisers or with researchers.  Putting a Creative Commons license on your profile is kind of an awesome way to reassert control, even if it’s not yet clear what that will mean.

Second, it’s a good reminder that even if Facebook is all about sharing, there’s a difference between posting something on Facebook and putting something into the public domain. It might seem counterintuitive that anyone would put a “sharing” license on what they post on Facebook.  But even if you have your profile public for all the world to see, you haven’t actually given permission for anything on your profile to be used anywhere else.

Which leads me to my last point: this new license for Facebook could have some fascinating implications for our debates about online privacy.

We at the Common Data Project are also interested in how a license could help signal sharing preferences, but for personal information rather than intellectual property.   In the spirit of Creative Commons, we want to create ways for people to clearly indicate their willingness for certain personal data to be put into a “common” pool, where it is anonymized and aggregated to individual specifications before being made available to the public for research, analysis, and other public uses.   People generally don’t “own” their personal information the way they own their car or the photos they take, but we wanted to both 1) make sharing information for public good a cool thing, and 2) create a new way to signal privacy preferences.

And as this new Creative Commons license for Facebook makes clear, the line between intellectual property and personal information is becoming increasingly blurred.  The kind of licensing system we’re imagining will have different specifications than the Creative Commons licenses, but it’s great to see movement in similar directions and I’m curious to see how our work will continue to intersect.

Terms of Use

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

A social networking site should know better.

On February 6th, Facebook made a teensy change to the language in its terms of use, to reclassify all user content posted to the site (photos, inane observations about one’s friends and oneself) the perpetual property of Facebook Inc.

Last weekend, the Consumerist blog (recently purchased from Gawker by Consumers Union) pointed out that if you value your own identity in any way, these user terms are unacceptable. Even if you don’t have a sex change operation or join the Amish and cancel your facebook membership. You just might not want your pretty mug popping up in an ad for, say, stereo headphones, because your profile pic happens looks like a great stock photo.

By Wednesday, the uproar had grown so big that FB was forced to backtrack, and reverted to its earlier terms of use. But the story doesn’t end there. FB is now soliciting input from users on a new set of rules – through what else? – A “bill of rights and responsibilities” (drafting a subject-specific “bill of rights”  is also the US Congress’ favorite remedy for righteous indignation, dontcha know…)

The flap should give some comfort to privacy advocates, and not only because FB backtracked. We learned that users a) are patient enough to read the fine print, and b) care what’s in it.

But there’s something to fret about too: if FB had, say, 1 million users instead of 175 million, would this issue ever have exploded the way it did? Not likely. And most of us have already signed off on dozens of other terms of use that never received the same kind of scrutiny.

Facebook: The Only Hotel California?

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

As the subject of recent splashy news on privacy and personal data collection, Facebook is starting to seem a little scary. In the words of one former user, Nipon Das, “It’s like the Hotel California. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” We’ve heard how difficult it is to remove yourself from Facebook.

We’ve seen how Facebook initially chose to launch Beacon, a advertising tool that told your friends about your activities on other websites, such as a purchase on eBay, without an easy opt-out mechanism, until outrage and a petition organized by forced Facebook to change its policy.

Facebook employees are even poking around private user profiles for personal entertainment.

But although Facebook is at the forefront of a new kind of marketing, it’s not the only company with discomforting privacy policies and terms of use. Facebook’s statement that its terms are subject to change at any time is standard boilerplate. Its disclosure that it may share your information with third parties to provide you service is also pretty standard. After all, it’s certified by TRUSTe, the leading privacy certifier for online businesses. In fact, Facebook is arguably more explicit than most companies about what it’s doing because by its very nature, it’s more obvious that users’ personal information is being collected.

You could argue that the users do have a choice. They could choose not to use Facebook. But how did it turn out that in the big world of the internet, we have only two choices: 1) provide your personal information on the company’s terms; or 2) don’t use the service?

So far, it’s not clear that the controversy around Facebook has led to increased public concern about other companies and their personal data collection. It doesn’t even seem to have spilled over to all the programs that run on Facebook’s platform. No one seems perturbed that the creator of some random new application for feeding virtual fish now has access to his or her profile.

But there clearly is growing public unease, an increasing sense that our Google searches or our online purchases may be available to people we don’t know and can’t trust. Perhaps Facebook will end up providing an invaluable public service, albeit inadvertently, in making more people wonder, “What exactly did I agree to?”

Get Adobe Flash player