Critics Not Satisfied with Facebook’s New Privacy Protections

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Far from mollified by Facebook’s new privacy controls,
a coalition of consumer and privacy advocates that have accused the
online social networking service of "unfair and deceptive trade
practices" renewed calls Thursday for lawmakers to adopt legislation to
strengthen personal rights on the Internet.

Facebook’s simplified
controls, unveiled Wednesday, were a positive step, several said. But
they expressed disappointment that Facebook did not retreat from
defaults that automatically provide user information with some
third-party partners unless users proactively "opt out" of such sharing.

has attracted a worldwide user base approaching 500 million with a
business model that is still evolving. Questions about the business
practices of Facebook, Google’s Buzz initiative and the activities of
other Internet companies are fueling a national and international
discussion about how individuals’ personal data is being gathered,
stored, mined, dispersed and commercialized.

In a conference
call with reporters organized by the Washington-based Electronic Privacy
Information Center, Facebook’s new controls were portrayed as a
"pre-emptive strike" intended to address complaints that the center and
its allies filed to the Federal Trade Commission, as well as heightened
interest in Congress.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg,
in a news conference Wednesday, said the new controls address
"confusion" by recent format changes and demonstrate the company’s commitment to
enabling users to control information they want to share.

early reaction to these changes from users around the world and the
community of privacy and consumer groups has been overwhelmingly
positive," Andrew Noyes, Facebook’s manager of public policy
communications said Thursday. He characterized Thursday’s conference
call as involving a "small group of critics."

Among Facebook’s
critics was Deborah Pierce of Privacy Activism: "A lot of this very
personal information is still available by default and should be opt-in.
Facebook has this pattern of launching ahead without really thinking
through the repercussions to people. I really don’t think they really do
respect the privacy of users."

Facebook’s shifting policies show
"a clear need for federal oversight and adequate legislation to protect
consumer online privacy rights," said John Simpson of Consumer
Watchdog. He faulted both Facebook and Google for "a Silicon Valley

"You push the envelope as far as you can, grab as much
information as fast as you can," he said.

The Electronic Privacy
Information Center and its cohorts first filed a complaint with the FTC
in December after Facebook introduced format changes that the center
said "disclose personal information to the public that was previously
restricted." Moreover, the complaint asserted: "Facebook’s changes to
users’ privacy settings also disclose personal information to third
parties that was previously not available."

While Facebook
continued to grow and engage more users, complaints spiked after it
introduced more dramatic modifications in April, including an "instant
personalization" feature that exposed the user’s online activities and
those of their friends on partner sites such as CNN and Yelp. While
Facebook executives said the changes would enrich the users’ Internet
experience by proliferating Facebook’s social aspects to other websites,
the backlash gathered momentum. Facebook users exchanged warnings on
the site, privacy advocates amended the complaint to the FTC and a
quartet of U.S. senators held a news conference to amplify the pressure
on Facebook.

Zuckerberg on Wednesday said the simplified policy
controls were developed over an intense two-week period of coding by a
team of developers. Privacy advocates said they were pleased that the
new controls include a means for users to prevent third-party
developers on Facebook’s platform, such as game developers, from
accessing their personal data.

Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s
combination of an opt-in default and simpler controls as striking a good
balance that can enhance the Internet environment while protecting
users. "Most people are comfortable with the defaults," he said.

expressed hope that Facebook can introduce new features without
engendering another uproar. "We are really going to try to not have
another backlash," he said in a tone that elicited some laughter from

Contact Scott Duke Harris at [email protected] or

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