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Facebook privacy concerns

27 February, 2009
By Allison Orr

Facebook has had to back down on changes to the social networking site’s terms of use, after complaints from users and from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).  The new policy would apparently have given Facebook perpetual rights to users’ uploaded content.

Facebook CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, wrote in a blog that they are now returning to the previous policy, while working on a new one.  He wants users’ input into the new terms and has started a new group – Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities – to get feedback and comments from the Facebook community.  He says:

More than 175 million people use Facebook. If it were a country, it would be the sixth most populated country in the world. Our terms aren't just a document that protect our rights; it's the governing document for how the service is used by everyone across the world. Given its importance, we need to make sure the terms reflect the principles and values of the people using the service.

Users, technology commentators and privacy advocates are starting to look more closely at Facebook and its practices, as the content housed on its servers is potentially worth millions to advertisers and market research companies.  Now Facebook plans to capitalise on that information, giving corporations access to information individuals put on their Facebook pages.

In late January, Zuckerberg showed the audience at the World Economic Forum (WEF) the latest tool Facebook has developed to collate that information: polling specific groups of users.  At the WEF, he asked users in Palestine and then Israel about peace issues then relayed the information back to the audience, all this done within minutes.  Facebook plans start using this polling tool over the next few months to raise revenue and realise some of the huge financial expectations that have been place on the company.

Facebook already has several tools that can aid in gauging user attitudes.  Advertisers can already choose which sorts of users will see their ads based on gender, age, location or what kind of content they have uploaded.  Then last year, Facebook launched Engagement Ads, which allows advertisers to publish a poll on users’ home pages and then see how that user’s friends have voted.  Facebook also has Facebook Lexicon (similar to Google Trends) which searches the incidence of words and phrases on "walls" (where people exchange public messages).

Facebook now has several ways to give user profile information to advertisers, and presumably the terms of use are being revised to accommodate this.  It remains to be seen whether users will like the information they share with friends being used to sell them products. 

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