Facebook has long been a major target of the privacy community. Law enforcement, on the other hand, maintains affection for the big blue dominator because of how broad and deep the company's data pool extends.
The site has 800 million active users, many of whom share extremely detailed and intimate information with it. Privacy advocates joke that it is in effect a shadow CIA database. And since the government can access content on it through various means — some more legitimate than others — that's pretty accurate.
The list of privacy gripes with Facebook is long and growing, including two major stories this week alone (more on those below). But from the very beginning the company got off to a terrible start with respect to privacy.
The company's original sin dates to Zuckerberg's heady days at Harvard, where he dismissed his first users as "dumb" to trust him with their private data. "I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS…People just submitted it. I don't know why. Dumb fucks," he wrote in an internet chat with a friend that later became public.
The wunderkind CEO's attitudes towards privacy don't seem to have changed much since. The clip below shows how uncomfortable Zuckerberg seems with questions about privacy. It's almost hard to watch it's so awkward.
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(The Atlantic has a pretty good summary of Facebook's greatest-hits on privacy up to 2010 here; for more recent information, click here. When you search Google for "Facebook privacy problems" and limit the results to those produced within the past month, you get an astonishing 231 million results. Needless to say, it's a hot topic.)
So what's been going on in the Facebook v. Privacy battle of late?
First there's news that the dreaded "Like" button is doing something even worse than we thought.
The privacy community responded negatively to the button soon as it began appearing on websites everywhere. The tool enables Facebook to move beyond the blue box of user-generated sharing into the wild west of the internet more broadly speaking: it tracks users everywhere they go online, amassing more detailed information about those 800 million people than Facebook could ever hope they would intentionally "share" with the company. But that's old news, and people seem to have acclimated to it — privacy corrosive or not.
But a recent revelation tied to the "Like" button has elicited new concerns. According to Zdnet, Facebook is now posting status updates for people without their consent, based on random stuff that they've "Liked" around the internet.
If you actively share a link, a post, or a photo, you expect that shared item to go out to your friends immediately. In this case, however, the posts are going out under your name because at some point in the past (in some cases in the distant past) you visited a page and clicked Like.Yes, you voluntarily Liked that page and made it part of your Facebook profile. If a Facebook friend wants to go through your list of Likes, they can learn that you like the NRA or PETA or a seemingly innocuous group that you probably didn't realize was funded by Karl Rove's political action committee.
Facebook's software likewise depends on relationship analysis and archives of real chats that preceded sex assaults, Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan told Reuters in the company's most expansive comments on the subject to date.Like most of its peers, Facebook generally avoids discussing its safety practices to discourage scare stories, because it doesn't catch many wrongdoers, and to sidestep privacy concerns. Users could be unnerved about the extent to which their conversations are reviewed, at least by computer programs.
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