Facebook presses pause on privacy updates as complaints intensify

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One of Facebook’s privacy critics says the company delayed implementing the recent updates to its privacy policy, according to the Los Angeles Times. This alleged delay follows more privacy complaints against the social network; this week, six consumer watchdog groups asked the Federal Trade Union to stop upcoming policy changes at Facebook.

These groups believe these upcoming changes will hurt users by making it easier than ever for Facebook to use user information to sell products in ads. 

This is the latest wrinkle in an ongoing conflict between Facebook, which wants to profit from user data, and privacy advocates and users who don’t want their personal information pimped out without their permission. Recent changes to Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy altered the language to give the company wider berth when it comes to using personal information. Now, the language states that by using the site, people automatically grant Facebook permission to use their information for advertising purposes involving brands you ‘like.’ 

But Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, says that these changes have been delayed because Facebook will need to justify this additional grab for user data. 

 Facebook denies that the language changes to the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy will allow for additional data grabs. Chief privacy officer Erin Egan characterized the changes as more semantic than anything else in an interview last week: “All we are changing is that we are providing more information and more specifics.” Users upset that their personal information was used by brands that they had ‘liked’ on Facebook without their consent banded together in a class action lawsuit.

Facebook may have implemented these changes as a safeguard against future lawsuits, since it recently had to dole out $20 million after it settled a suit about how it took user information for its “Sponsored Stories.” 

Facebook’s defense that users had automatically opted in was shut down, so it makes sense that the social network updated its policies to make this assumption of an automatic opt-in more explicit. But it also makes sense that watchdog groups have a problem with this, since many Facebook users are unaware that simply by using the service they acquiesce to becoming advertisements for brands they ‘like.’ 

The boundaries of privacy in the digital age are ambiguous. But even the ones assumed evident, like the right to privacy during encrypted transactions, have been trampled by both public and private institutions. This latest kerfuffle may seem like small potatoes, but Facebook’s decision to steer users towards policies where consent is assumed is disturbing, and it reinforces the idea that individuals cannot participate online without ceding their ability to set privacy limits. 

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