Skip to main content

Open Letter Urges Facebook to Strengthen Privacy

Image used with permission by copyright holder

After several failures, online social networking service Facebook actually seems to have understood that many of its users have significant concerns about their online privacy and the way in which information they upload to Facebook is shared with the public, application developers, advertisers, and other sites. Facebook recently bent over backwards to rework its privacy controls into a simpler configuration users could more easily understand and manage…but a group of consumer advocacy groups thinks Facebook could go further, and sent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg an open letter (PDF) detailing their specific concerns. And, surprisingly, Facebook has responded point-by-point.

The open letter asks Facebook to take six concrete steps to further shore up its privacy stance:

  1. Give users capability to decide what third-party Facebook apps can access their personal information
  2. Make Facebook’s instant personalization of third-party partner sites opt-in by default
  3. Do not retain data about visitors to third-party sites using Facebook social plug-ins or Like buttons unless visitors specifically interact with those tools
  4. Provide users control over all information shared via Facebook, including the shared-by-default items like name, gender, profile picture, and networks
  5. Protect all interactions with the Facebook site from third-party man-in-the-middle attacks by encrypting them using SSL
  6. Provide tools for users to export content they’ve uploaded to Facebook and details of their social network so they can opt out of Facebook without losing their information.

The open letter is signed by a number of notable privacy and consumer advocate groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Privacy Activism, Privacy Lives, and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Facebook’s point-by-point response basically boils down to:

  1. Facebook has already announced a new permissions model for apps, and it should be rolling out to developers soon
  2. Facebook says instant personalization is misunderstood, and partners only have access to information that’s public on users profiles
  3. Facebok kind of misses the point on not retaining data from third parties using social plug-ins or like buttons, but says it only hangs on to the information for 90 days and doesn’t share or sell it
  4. Facebook doesn’t budge on letting users control whether default profile information gets shared. “It has been our experience that people have a more meaningful experience on Facebook when they share some information about themselves. That way, they can find friends and friends can find them, which is the reason most people come to Facebook.”
  5. Facebook is testing SSL and hopes to add it as an option soon
  6. Facebook also misses the intent of the open letter’s sixth point, saying users can export data they themselves have uploaded to Facebook, but can’t let users export information about others, since doing so would violate those users’ privacy.

What’s interesting about this dialog isn’t so much the specific details—most of this is gobbledegook for anyone who isn’t serious about online privacy—but that the dialog is happening at all, and furthermore that it’s happening rapidly and in a public forum. If nothing else, that speaks well of Facebook’s intentions to be transparent about the ways it is—and plans to—protect its users privacy, as well as the sensitive issues on which it simply will not budge.

Editors' Recommendations

Topics
Geoff Duncan
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Geoff Duncan writes, programs, edits, plays music, and delights in making software misbehave. He's probably the only member…
DuckDuckGo’s Windows browser is here to protect your privacy
The Duck Player feature of DuckDuckGo's Windows web browser, showing a video being played.

A few months ago, DuckDuckGo launched a privacy-focused browser on macOS. Well, Windows users no longer have to miss out, as the browser has found its way onto Microsoft’s operating system. If you want a web browsing experience that protects your privacy, it could be a good time to check it out.

The browser is available as a public beta, according to a blog post from DuckDuckGo. It comes with a bunch of built-in privacy protections that could be ideal if you’re tired of trackers and cookies snooping on your internet sessions.

Read more
How to get your share of Facebook’s $750M settlement
A silhouetted person holds a smartphone displaying the Facebook logo. They are standing in front of a sign showing the Meta logo.

Meta (formerly Facebook) might owe people who used the social media site between 2007 and 2022 some money due to privacy infringement, according to Mashable.

The social media giant has reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit where it admits no fault in the claims against the company, but has agreed to pay out $725 million in damages. The money is available to all who submit a claim by the appropriate deadline of August 25, 2023. If you are (or were) a Facebook user, here's how to know if you're eligible and get your share of the settlement.
How to know if you're eligible
There are various stipulations you should take into consideration, including that the $725 million award will be truncated after Meta pays its legal and administrative fees. There are also eligibility, filing, and opt-out dates you want to note.

Read more
Firefox just got a great new way to protect your privacy
Canva in Firefox on a MacBook.

If you’re fed up with signing up for new accounts online and then being perpetually spammed in the days and weeks after, Mozilla has an idea that could help. The company has just announced its Firefox Relay feature is being directly integrated into its Firefox web browser, and it could help guarantee your privacy without any extra hassle.

Firefox Relay works by letting you create email “masks” when you sign up for new accounts. Instead of entering your real credentials into the sign-up field, Firefox Relay provides you with a throwaway address and phone number to use. Any messages from the website -- such as purchase receipts -- are then forwarded to your real email address, with all the sender’s tracking information stripped out to protect your privacy.

Read more