Grading Facebook’s Privacy Changes

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Among privacy advocates, opinions are divided as to whether or not
Facebook’s latest policy changes amount to much. According to the social
network’s critics, the changes announced this week do not lessen the
need for FTC regulation.

While some privacy groups gave a thumbs up to
Facebook’s latest privacy
changes, others say the social
is more form than substance.

Representatives from a number of groups, including the Electronic
Information Center (EPIC), the Privacy
Rights Clearinghouse and Consumer Watchdog, said May 27 during a call
with the
media that Facebook’s approach of forcing users to opt out of sharing
information rather than opt in lessens the impact of the latest change.

“Certainly Facebook has taken a step in the right direction in terms
simplifying things,” said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy
the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “However, we do regard the changes as
superficial. We’re particularly troubled by the default settings and by
largely opt-out approach that has been taken by Facebook, and view much
of what
has been done as essentially a pre-emptive
against regulation
by the Federal Trade Commission.”

Facebook announced three main changes: creating one control for
content, reducing
the amount of information considered "publicly available," and giving
users more control over how applications and Websites access user data.
Facebook said the site adopted these changes after consultation with
groups such as the Center for Democracy and Technology.

"Facebook’s users have spoken and made it clear that they want
of their information. … While more work still needs to be done, these
are the building blocks for
people what they want
and deserve,” said Leslie Harris, president
the Center for Democracy and Technology, in a statement issued

While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently
the company
"missed the mark" with previous iterations
of its privacy controls, Facebook has maintained it is committed to
striking a
balance between respecting user privacy while facilitating the sharing

EPIC was among the groups that took their
concerns about Facebook’s privacy practices to the Federal Trade
in December and earlier this month—in the form of complaints.

John Verdi, senior counsel at EPIC, told
reporters the privacy group wasn’t sure of the status of the complaints,
but was hopeful “given the seriousness of the privacy breaches that
occurred in
this case, that the FTC will take strong and quick decisive action.”

“If they were sincere about privacy, the default mode for everything
be the minimal amount of sharing, and if you wish to share more you
would opt
in to doing that,” said John M. Simpson, consumer advocate for Consumer
Watchdog. “I don’t think we have any reason to trust the company now
based on
their past record. There’s a pretty clear need for federal oversight at

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