5 Ways To Improve Facebook's User Privacy

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It doesn't take long before privacy advocates and users complain about new services introduced by Facebook. This time Senators from across the United States have taken a stand. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are involved and ready to fight.

The senators are taking on the issue of the recent changes to Facebook's privacy policy as well as the Instant Personalization services that allows third-party websites to customize site features to users' tastes. The senators are asking FTC to recommend privacy guidelines for online social networks. This may in turn cause lawmakers to introduce legislation to govern privacy on social networks.

Facebook however, has been responsive to user concerns in the past and may do the same in this situation. According to Ian Paul there are several things Facebook could do to improve their likability.

First Facebook must make the Opt-out option for the Instant Personalization feature much easier to understand. Apparently users are being buried within the privacy settings and Facebook forces users to click several times to opt-out.

Facebook must become much more upfront about changes and rewrites. Last Friday Facebook reworded the privacy policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities unknown to many of it's users.

Stop being vague. Facebook tends to use ambiguous language such as: "Connections. Facebook enables you to connect with virtually anyone and anything you want... Because it takes two to connect, your privacy settings only control who you can see the connection on your profile page."

Reading between the lines you must understand that this connections means at minimum your friends, likes, interests, city, hometown, family, relationships, networks, activities, interests, and places. It is very unclear on how these connections are made public and to whom

Let the user control the information access. Facebook users interacting with a third-party website or application need to have more control over what information those third parties can get from their profiles.

Finally the fifth improvement needed is to bring back the 24-hour user data storage policy. Third parties you interact with are not aloud to sell users Facebook data or use it other than in relation to Facebook. But it does make it easier for rogue sites to build databases on Facebook profile information.

Facebook should heed these warnings or else Congress may take action and soon.


The Ethics of the "Leak"

A tech blog aired a video last week listing the features of the unreleased iPhone 4G after the top-secret phone was forgotten in a bar.

On his 27th birthday, Gray Powell, an Apple engineer, was at a bar celebrating with friends. When the group left the bar, Powell forgot his iPhone sitting on a bar stool, but this was no ordinary iPhone. It was an iPhone 4G, not due for release until this summer, disguised as an iPhone 3GS.

Gizmodo, a blog specializing in the analysis of new technology, bought the iPhone 4G for $5,000. Staff members then dissected the phone and verified its authenticity as the highly anticipated new iPhone.

Immediately, speculations began that the iPhone leak was simply a ploy by Apple to steal buzz from the release of Google's Android. However, Gizmodo refutes that idea in a recent article.

This is not the first time that there has been a leak on a highly-anticipated Apple product. The morning the iPad was released, an Apple engineer showed it to Steve Wozniak, one of Apple's co-founders, for two minutes. As a result of this internal leak, that engineer, identified only as A.J., was fired.

Wozniak told Gizmodo this story following the recent iPhone leak. If Gizmodo knew that Apple fired the person who leaked the iPad, would they have an ethical responsibility to reconsider publishing the leak of the iPhone 4G? Or, in contrast, does a blog like Gizmodo have a responsibility to publish that information when it is encountered?

In the iPad leak, the engineer was kept anonymous, and he lost his job. Because Gizmodo identified Powell so quickly, they may have helped him keep his job. Instead of remaining faceless, he became the symbol of a guy who screwed up. If you fire the guy now, you make him a martyr for Apple. From a public relations standpoint, it's a whole lot easier to give Powell a second chance when everyone knows his name.


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