Facebook Answers Tough Questions by Users & US Government

Well I guess we finally heard it straight from “the horse’s mouth.”  If you are a Facebook user and you don’t want something shared then don’t post it. In a recent Q&A session between Facebook’s Vice President for Public Policy Elliot Schrage and questions posted through a forum through the New York Times Schrage says, “If you’re not comfortable sharing, don’t.”  However, Facebook doesn’t seem to be making it hard for you to share – or for others to obtain the information either.  Find out the answers to your questions about Facebook’s release of information policies and who may be “profiling” you.

One of the questions is one that I am sure many users of Facebook would like answered,

Why not simply set everything up for opt-in rather than opt-out? Facebook seems to assume that users generally want all the details of their private lives made public.” abycats, New York

Schrage response, “Everything is opt-in on Facebook. Participating in the service is a choice. We want people to continue to choose Facebook every day. Adding information — uploading photos or posting status updates or “like” a Page — are also all opt-in. Please don’t share if you’re not comfortable. That said, we certainly will continue to work to improve the ease and access of controls to make more people more comfortable. Your assumption about our assumption is simply incorrect. We don’t believe that. We’re happy to make the record on that clear.”

He goes on to answer what happens when your Facebook account is deleted. There are two different ways to leave Facebook, one through deleting your account and another through deactivating.  If you choose deactivation, your information will still be there “in case you need it again.”

Why is this important?  Because once again Facebook is making changes that can affect you and your privacy.

In this letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Facebook admits that it is moving forward with the next installment of “allowing” private and apparently not so private information to be made available to third parties.  Facebook of course also says it is up to the user because they can “allow” or “not allow” an application within Facebook to access their account.

You know that little window where you can grant permission? To many Facebook users that is going to be even more important. 

“We expect that, once the feature is re-enabled, Facebook will again permit users to authorize applications to obtain their contact information,” Marne Levine, Facebook vice president of global public policy, wrote. “However, we are currently evaluating methods to further enhance user control in this area.”

Unfortunately not everyone on Facebook bothers to read the fine print (teens especially).  They see an app or a game that looks like fun and they click away.

One other concern with Facebook becoming a “phonebook” is credit collectors, credit requests and even prospective employers may be using your social network to catch you in their “net,” and obtaining information that they may nor may not need or legally be able to ask you in an application or interview.

“Those pictures on your profile or status updates about a new purchase, a raise or your income tax return provide creditors evidence about your ability to pay your debts,” Michelle Dunn, an expert on credit and debt collection, explains, “[f]or one or two hours a week, you can obtain information that in the past you might have needed to hire a skip tracer to find.”

About this latest move Helen A.S. Popkin, a tech writer from MSNBC says “Facebook is the slowly warming pot of water and we, my friends, are the frog. By the time we noticed our peeling skin, another hunk of our privacy is long gone.

This is how Facebook rolls: Strip away a huge chunk of your privacy, cry ‘Our bad!’ and roll it back when users and/or privacy advocates complain. Then wait awhile, and do whatever it is Facebook planned to do anyway. Voila! Boiled frog.”

One U.S. Representative says, “”Facebook needs to protect the personal information of its users to ensure that Facebook doesn’t become Phonebook.” That’s why they are looking into this situation now.

In response to Yahoo News request for information Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes emailed the following statement: “Despite some rumors, there’s no way for other websites to access a user’s address or phone number from Facebook. For people that may find this option useful in the future, we’re considering ways to let them share this information (for example to use an online shopping site without always having to re-type their address). People will always be in control of what Facebook information they share with apps and websites.”

So, will you be sharing on Facebook now? Or will you be taking a second look at what’s on your profile page?