Does Facebook care about your privacy?

Posted by David Gomez

Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking monster Facebook is back in the negativity spotlight once again. More questionable privacy practices have people wondering if Facebook can ever be trusted with users’ personally identifiable information.

According to reports some of the most popular apps on Facebook have been sending users’ personal information to third parties. Of course these third parties are the typical shady advertisers and Internet tracking companies that we all love so much.

Obviously this is a concern for the tens of millions of Facebook users who think that their privacy settings will protect them. On Facebook privacy settings aren’t keeping anything private.

These issues come up a lot; Facebook modifies their privacy rules, goes before the media and promises new privacy practices. And then later we find that maybe the privacy polices don’t do what we have been led to believe they will.  

The most troubling thing to come out of the report in the Wall Street Journal is the fact that not only have individual users’ information been released,  some of their  friends, family and coworkers have most likely been compromised as well.

For reasons of quality control Facebook’s apps have been secretly building a database of information about Facebook’s users for advertisers. And the most popular ones are guilty of it too. FarmVille’s little pigs have been spying on everyone you know.

Most of the 550,000 apps are not developed by Facebook. That is the problem; Facebook has grown so big that they can’t control what they’ve created. People want a social network with many diversions. And the app developers are providing Facebook with apps that transmit personal information to database makers.

Does Facebook care about your privacy? Mark Zuckerberg promises that they do.

Facebook probably couldn’t stop the federal law enforcement agencies from using Facebook to gather personal and political data about users, but it would nice to see them try.

Facebook can however do something about apps and their developers sneaking spy protocols into social gaming. Facebook could strive to either build their own apps to take the place of current apps, or make developers give final control of the app coding to Facebook.

I don’t think Facebook would have much luck trying to exert so much control over app developers. It would solidify Mark Zuckerberg with Steve Jobs as Thing one and Thing two and he just doesn’t need that after the unflattering film "The Social Network" made him look like a jerk.

A more realistic thing to do would be to develop their own apps to replace the popular apps on Facebook. Instead of a fancifully crafted privacy policy that has no teeth, Facebook should try strong actions instead of strong words.

Right now the biggest legal defense against spying over social networks is the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Facebook could join the fight and really get users on their side by taking strong action to protect things on Facebook users really don’t want anyone but Facebook to have access to.

Facebook should explore ways to develop apps that don’t secretly transmit personal information to sleazy database companies. Even something halfway resembling action of that nature would be a nice gesture.

Maybe people can’t have expectations of privacy in certain public forums on the Internet. But people shouldn’t have the games that they play with their friends online transmitting data about them to database makers.

There is always a way to solve a problem if you are serious about solving it. I hope people will not believe Facebook’s promises of privacy anymore. Not until we see a real effort to deliver privacy to its users.