Demand your dotRights: Facebook gives people “more control” by revealing private their information

Demand your dotRights

Demand your dotRights

We are concerned that the Transition Tool and other changes actually discourage or eliminate some privacy protections that Facebook users currently employ. And we’re still waiting for Facebook to address the privacy issues concerning third party applications that were raised months ago in our petition.

— Nicole Ozer of dotRights, Facebook privacy is in transition — but where is it heading?

Facebook’s message when I logged in today talked about how they were giving me more control of my information and simplifying the privacy settings.  Uh-oh.  Valleywag thinks it smells like an anti-privacy plot, and PC World’s Tech Inciter suggests watchs out for the “Everyone” setting.  Comments on the Facebook governance page are even more critical.

And yeah, sure enough, if I click on “Save Settings” and accept Facebook’s defaults, my status updates, photos, list of family members, etc., become public.   For everyone on the internet to see.  Yikes.   And just in time for the holidays, too!

dotRights has the best privacy guide I’ve found so far. Please have a look at it, and share it with your friends — on Facebook and in email.

If you’d like to give Facebook feedback, please do, either directly on Facebook or by signing dotRights’ petition.  Twitter coming soon, hopefully 🙂

I’ve got a screenshot below, along with some thoughts about activism — and a comment about software engineering, if you’re into that kind of stuff.

Here’s an excerpt from the privacy settings screen:

Image of Facebook privacy settings

It’s not obvious — at least it wasn’t to me — but Facebook’s recommendation is for people to make their status updates, photos, list of family members, etc., public.

Really?   That’s what they’re recommending to teenagers?  People in abusive relationships?  Law enforcement personnel?  Geez.  Certainly seems like they’re setting themselves up for some problems with privacy commissioners and attorneys general.

And as always, no matter what I choose for my settings, “Facebook-enhanced applications” like Mafia Wars and SuperPoke can get at my name, profile pic, friend list and more.  About 43,000 users signed dotRights’ petition about this three months ago.  Since then there’s been a major scandal involving scams by advertisers on some of the most popular gaming apps.

Facebook’s got a choice to make here and thus far it seems like they’re continuing to choose revenue over protecting the members of their community.  I wonder what Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart thinks of this?

Can we do something about it from the activism perspective?  Quite possibly yes.  At last year’s Twittering in the Trenches workshop we brainstormed what a social network activism campaign directed against a corporation could look like, and all came away thinking that it could work.

Since then, the ACLU and other organizations have steadily increased there presence on Facebook as well as Twitter.   The ongoing Patriot Act activism has given everybody a lot more experience at working together — and at working with grassroots organizations.   And with Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly running for California Attorney General, there’s an excellent chance to make privacy into a campaign issue in one of the few states that has a constitutional right to privacy.

This is likely to be a defining moment for Facebook — and for privacy on social networks.   If they continue trying to deceive their users and ignore their preferences, they’ll eventually destroy trust and their possibilities for future growth.  If governments let them get away with trying, they’re setting a new low bar.  More positively, though …

Grassroots activism has been very successful a couple of times at getting Facebook to change its tactics.  Move On led with Beacon in 2007; earlier this year, it was Chris Walters, Anne Kathrine Yojana Petterøe, Julius Harper, and EPIC  with the Terms of Service (1, 2,  3).   Now’s a great chance to build on those successes.

If Facebookers, privacy advocates and everybody else, stand up for our rights and find a way to impact Facebook’s business and the California election, we’ll show that we’re a force to be reckoned with.


PS: If you agree, please start by giving Facebook feedback — directly on Facebook or by signing dotRights’ petition.  Follow dotRights on Twitter and on Facebook.  And stay tuned for more.