Facebook's eroding privacy policies


Over the years from 2005, when Facebook was still known as "Thefacebook" and its membership was still limited to verifiable Harvard students, to 2010, Facebook changed its privacy policies many times. Over that time, the default circle of who could view users' data widened over time, first to include schools and local areas, then to the entire Facebook network, then to the wider internet, and finally to third-party apps and advertisers. Taken together, the story is one of a service that began by promising users control over their privacy and gone on to gradually weaken the controls it promised.
In 2009, in response to repeated criticisms of the increasing complexity of Facebook's privacy controls, the company announced a redesign to simplify the settings and "give you more control of your information". A close examination of the controls, however, led critics to conclude that the changes were designed to encourage users to share even more of their information than before - and that some of them also reduced the control users had previously had. The new controls did give users more granular control over who could see which posts, and simplified some settings (for example, they eliminated regional networks, which had sometimes led users to share their profiles with entire cities or even countries), and the publicity led many to examine for the first time the controls available to them. However, the default settings favoured sharing information rather than protecting it, and, more disturbing, Facebook opened access to information that users had previously been able to restrict, such as Friends lists, and barred users from blocking apps from collecting personal information about themselves. 
In 2011, these changes led to an investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission, resulting in a consent decree that would require the company to undergo third-party audits every two years for 20 years.
tags: Facebook, eroding privacy, social networks, privacy controls, FTC, apps
Writer: Kurt Opsahl
Publication: EFF

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