Social networking software

Facebook Mulling Privacy Changes Via Public Comments

Facebook is mulling changes to its privacy policy that appear to be small, but privacy advocates argue will make a big difference in the way the company collects information on Facebook and non-Facebook users.

"We plan to review and analyze your comments over the coming days and will keep you posted on next steps," the company said in a posting to its Facebook Site Governance page where it solicited public opinion.

(See Related: Facebook Changes Privacy Policy Again)

Among the changes being considered by Facebook to its "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" is the removal of all references to a "privacy policy" and replacing it with "data use policy."

That change, according to privacy expert Sarah Downey, an attorney with Abine, a Boston-based provider of online privacy services, makes Facebook's "Statement of Rights and Responsibilities" more accurate. "This terminology change is more accurate because Facebook has always sought user data and you have very little privacy on the site," she stated.

Another change would expand Facebook's data collection tactics. For example, Downey maintained that third-party apps that your "friends" subscribe to can access your information, too. "If people do not explicitly give an app permission to access their information, it should not have access to their information," she said.

In addition, Facebook mobile apps automatically access a member's contacts, location and other personal information without asking your permission, she asserted.

Also among the modifications is a change in the definition of "information" to "facts and other information about you, including actions taken by users and non-users who interact with Facebook." That, according to Downey, "reflects the fact that Facebook collects information about everyone, regardless of whether they're members who have chosen to sign up."

Facebook declined to respond to our request for comment on Downey's remarks.

1000 Comments Reviewed

The social network's notice that it is reviewing comments on the changes to its rights statement received more than 450 "likes" and more than 300 comments.

One commenter was irked by the short time period Facebook allowed for public comment on the proposed changes spelled out in a 4700 word-plus proposal. "People were given less than 10 days to post comments and many of us were unaware of the SR&R post until it was mentioned in news articles this week," Lyn Dyles complained.

She was also critical of a change that would allow applications used by a "friend" to grab data from the friends of that friend. "If I am not a user of an application, and if I have not given consent to have my information shared with the app, then my privacy is being violated," she wrote.

Facebook posted a notice that it was looking for comments on its proposed changes on March 15 and declared the deadline for such comments was March 22. More than 1000 comments about the statement changes were submitted to Facebook.

Many of those comments were complaints about Timeline, a design change recently imposed by Facebook on all its users, and a change that some believe may be a violation of the privacy of the social network's members

Under a Privacy Microscope

Facebook's checkered relationship with privacy came to a head when the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched an investigation of the social network. That probe resulted in a settlement late last year in which Facebook agreed to stop making deceptive claims about privacy and to obtain consumers' approval before it changes the way it shares their data.

The settlement also requires Facebook to obtain periodic assessments of its privacy practices by independent auditors over the next 20 years.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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