A Complaint on Facebook Privacy Settings Elicits Heated Response

EPIC or the Electronic Privacy Information Center has yet again launched a heated debate over the new privacy settings that Facebook has updated and changed. This is the second time that EPIC has raised its voice against Facebook concerning the importance of protecting online user privacy.

The last complaint made by EPIC was when it announced that it was getting ready to file a federal complaint about the stipulation in Facebook Terms and Conditions that if any user were to register on Facebook and deleted his or her account, the information used in the account would be forever owned by Facebook.

However, within 24 hours of EPIC’s announcement, Facebook suddenly changed its Terms and Conditions of use to one that would allow registered users to have a say on the future changes made in Facebook user terms.

Recently, Facebook again made a policy change in the user settings which basically reveals user information to third-party applications on Facebook as well as to search engines existing on the Web. Although Facebook insists that the settings are available to users to have full control over, EPIC seems to think otherwise.

EPIC’s Side

EPIC’s basic complaint overall is that when a user signs onto Facebook, his privacy (because of that new setting) is lessened and overall the user’s expectations of privacy on Facebook are violated. Despite all of Facebook’s representations of getting user input in a fair and privacy-protecting policy, these changes are all contrary to what they say they stand for.

The main complaint of EPIC is that what used to be veiled personal information that the user, in good faith put on the site, becomes susceptible for viewing to the public. This includes information like gender, profile pictures, cities, and names. By allowing public viewing of these could cause many users to become vulnerable to illegal use and fraud in the future.

EPIC is not alone in all this as seven advocacy firms with similar causes are supporting the complaint. The Executive Director of EPIC, Mark Rotenberg, believes that with more than a hundred million Facebook users already registered online, privacy should remain the top priority of the Facebook company.

Facebook’s Side

Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t see why EPIC is making such a fuss over privacy since it is a setting on the website that the user can fully control and decide on. It had talked to regulators and the Federal Trade Commission about the revised policy which also has an addition al set of user options which are more detailed which allows them to decide on settings of the abovementioned information like gender or profile photo.

According to Facebook’s Public Policy Communication’s Manager, Andrew Noyes, EPIC was not forward in addressing their concerns directly with Facebook, but chose to speak with the Federal Trade commission first. The recent policy changes have been discussed thoroughly with several international organizations already, which have all been very positive and productive.

The Privacy Debate

As the complaint has become public, so have many other opinions on privacy and the organizations involved in the issue. The Progress and Freedom Foundation’s member, who is also a senior fellow, Berin Szoka questions whether or not the government should even be involved in the debate at all. As a private organization, Facebook has the responsibility to move people forward and strike a fine balance between online sharing and user control. But he is apprehensive about having the government involved in the ultimate policy process as a lead agency in privacy issues like this.

On the other hand, ConnectSafely.org’s Co-Director, Larry Magid, has a balanced view and sees Facebook’s need to have user details displayed which ultimately protect the public somewhat. However, since Facebook is a private entity, it also needs to uphold the importance of protecting the privacy of users that have confidence in Facebook’s old privacy protection policies.

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