May 07, 2010, 4:09 PM — Facebook is opening up new and interesting ways for you to share information, links and other items online with new features like its universal like button and Instant Personalization. But at the same time, Facebook's tendency to make more and more of your previously private information public continues to be a troubling habit of the popular social network. Concerns over Facebook's treatment of user privacy recently led the Electronic Privacy Information Center and 14 other consumer advocacy groups to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over Facebook's stance on privacy.
While Facebook may be a great tool for connecting with friends and sharing photos and news, it's important to be aware of how Facebook treats your information and how those policies have evolved over time.
With that in mind, here are four reasons why Facebook's treatment of user privacy should cause concern among its users.
1. Privacy Regression
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an interesting post up on its Deeplinks blog that charts Facebook's privacy regressions from keeping your information private to making more and more of your data public.
In 2005, for example, other Facebook users could not see any of your personal information on Facebook unless they belonged "to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings," according to the EFF blog post. By 2006, public information included "school, your specified local area, and other reasonable community limitations that we [Facebook] tell you about." By 2007, public information included your, "name, school name, and profile picture thumbnail." By November 2009 your publicly available information was being indexed by third-party search engines, and by December 2009, publicly available information included your "name, profile photo, list of friends and pages you are a fan of, gender, geographic region, and networks."
That is a drastic change in privacy in just five years, although some of these changes may be attributed to Facebook's popularity and new user features and services. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how much more of your information Facebook pushes into the public sphere over time.
2. Complex Privacy Settings
Facebook allows a certain level of control over some of the information you want to make private, but these controls are not as simple as they should be. For example, Facebook has an entire section in its privacy settings called "Friends, Tags and Connections" that controls what types of information about other people are displayed publicly on your profile.