In blog post dated 26 March, Facebook’s deputy general counsel Michael Richter said that the announcement was in line with the site’s “open and transparent system of governance”. However, he gave very few details of the upcoming changes – merely hinting at possible partnerships with third-party websites to offer “a more personalised experience”.
“User control over privacy remains essential to our innovation process and we’ll continue to develop new tools to help you control the things you share on Facebook,” he said.
Tighter control and child protection
The news follows the recent controversy over Facebook’s refusal to use the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) alert on its social network. MPs including Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman demanded “swift action” on the issue, but Facebook argued that it already had reporting buttons on its site. Finally a compromise was reached, and Facbook agreed to put the button in its “safety centre”, amongst its other help and safety information.
Third party access to information
It goes on to say: “We may also make information about the location of your computer or access device and your age available to applications and websites in order to help them implement appropriate security measures and control the distribution of age‐appropriate content. If the application or website wants to access any other data, it will have to ask for your permission. ”
However, Facebook warns that a few pre‐approved third‐party websites and applications might be provided with “General Information” about users without the user’s prior consent. Furthermore, the pre‐approved website will also receive information about that user’s friends. “ In these cases we require these websites and applications to go through an approval process, and to enter into separate agreements designed to protect your privacy,” it said.
In his blog post, Richter remains vague about these new third-party partnerships: “In such instances, we would only introduce this feature with a small, select group of partners and we would also offer new controls,” he says.
Privacy expectations and open governance
Richter was also keen to emphasise Facebook’s “openness” about its policy changes. “We now post all proposed changes to our governing documents before they go into effect and solicit feedback on these proposals from the people who use Facebook,” he said. “In fact, we think we’re the only major online service that does this.”
Earlier this year Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was widely criticised for suggesting that people no longer have an expectation of privacy, thanks to increasing uptake of social networking. “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people,” he said.
However, at “Privacy and Identity in a Digital Age” – a discussion run by the University of Southampton’s Institute for Web Science on 23 March – Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, slammed Facbook’s default privacy settings, which make information available to “Everyone”.
“Facebook uses default settings which are hostile to privacy. It is a con trick on users. They are being manipulated by social network sites – it is disgraceful and probably unlawful,” he said.