Facebook Chides Privacy Coalition Over 'Open Letter'

Facebook says it has taken appropriate steps to simplify information sharing and protect user privacy.

Facebook released a point-by-point rebuttal to an open letter about privacy from consumer watchdog groups this week, saying that it already created measures to protect user privacy and that its instant personalization pilot program has been greatly misunderstood.

The first open letter, sent Wednesday by a group of privacy advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation, demanded that Facebook address "outstanding privacy problems" such as letting third-party social plug-ins retain user information, also known as instant personalization, and giving users more control over their information. This includes in opt-in rather than opt-out of instant personalization.

"We do not use (the information] for ad targeting nor do we sell it to third parties," the Facebook letter said in response. "That information cannot be sold or shared with others or used in any way other than to improve the experience of Facebook users visiting their site."

Facebook rebutted most of Wednesday's open letter, stating that information third-parties receive is no different than anyone looking at a user's public information. It also said Facebook has reduced the amount of user information available to the public and provided users with tools to restrict their profile information to friends only.

Privacy groups also wanted users to be able to export all their information and content if they left Facebook.

Facebook said it had no plans to allow users to leave Facebook and take with them all details of their social network. "We don't allow exporting of content that is created by others because it doesn't respect the decisions users make on Facebook . . . Frankly, we're surprised that these groups would advocate for a tool that would enable one person to strip all of the privacy protections for any information that has been shared with them," Facebook stated.

The controversy about Facebook and privacy came to a head in May, when 15 organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and culminated into users started a "Quit Facebook Day" campaign slated for May 31. Although the campaign wasn't universally embraced, Facebook changed its privacy settings, making it easier to keep personal information from going public.

Facebook is an $800 million a year business and makes all its money from advertising. To think a company - not a nonprofit, not a government agency - wouldn't use personal information may be a little naïve. While more privacy (full disclosure: I use Facebook) is ideal, it doesn't make for an easy or profitable business model. Users still may have to decide if it's more important to stay in contact with friends than be targeted for advertising. And from what we saw from the Quit Facebook movement, most users seem to have already decided to stay put.

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Barbara Hernandez

PC World (US online)
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