Last week, Facebook announced changes affecting its 1 billion-plus users. The social network plans to share more of users’ data with affiliates like Instagram, and change how users manage their messages. Now two consumer watchdogs are demanding Facebook stop its proposed changes, claiming they’re infringing on users’ rights. How will these changes affect you? And what does it say about larger online privacy issues?

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and professor at Georgetown University Law Center
Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of All Things Digital, a website devoted to news, analysis and opinion on technology, the Internet and media
Laura Sydell, digital culture correspondent for NPR

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Is anyone being forced to join Facebook? No. Facebook offers a FREE service and tells users they share info with others based on what you are talking about on FB, or FB sites you have ‘friended’.

    Internet sites are very good at telling users what they do with the information you share on their sites.

    I buy a lot of non fiction books from Amazon on a variety of topics and every few days in my email Amazon will send me suggestions based on books I have bought. Heck Williams Sonoma send me reminders all the time that I might like the item I looked at on their site.

    If you NOT want Internet sites knowing about you then stay off the computer!

    • Rhet

      I agree, staying off the computer is a good idea.
      I’m not on Facebook.
      The Internet is like a plantation. users are the slaves and the corporate websites are the master’s henchmen, watching our every move.
      As always, we must choose to be free.

  • marisano

    Thanks for the glimpse into the future Beth. (That is, commenting on the program before it’s aired – now you’ve got me doing it too!)

    Well, let’s see. Network television is also a FREE service, yet it doesn’t share or even collect information about its users viewing habits. There’s no reason that the Internet has too, especially given its roots. And while it’s true that no one’s being forced to use facebook, it’s also true that Internet sites are very good at updating their privacy and data usage policies whenever it suits them, sometimes without notice.

    Finally, it’s not stay off the computer – which has many more uses than the World Wide Web – it’s stay off the Internet at worst, or maybe disable “cookies” or connect ‘incognito’.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      Disable cookies is a must!! As for TV some suggest that if someone has satellite service that soon subscribers will be targeted by advertisers based on data the satellite server gathers on customers.

      Yahoo, Google, AOL,eBay, PayPal, my bank etc all send me updates on privacy issues related to their online services I use.

      • marisano

        > Yahoo, Google, AOL,eBay, PayPal, my bank etc all
        > send me updates on privacy issues related to their
        > online services I use.

        Right. But several companies have a clause saying that they do not have to, and that you should check their privacy page periodically to make sure you’re up-to-date on the latest. [I read those things.] Furthermore, proceeding with regular usage indicates your agreement. If I have to I’ll find some for you…

      • Beth Grant DeRoos

        I also wanted to note that I have more intrusion from using Google Chrome, since everything I looked at on a site like art.com shows up when I am reading the SFChronicle, and other sites. Facebook has yet to show to the right of the page anything I have looked at. And the ads they do have are of no interest to me.

  • Rhet

    There are lots of alternatives to Facebook. The majority of people tend not to use them because Facebook appeals to narcissists and exhibitionists, and such people are always drawn to the biggest audience. But there is a lot of fragmentation in the online-exhibitionism market too, so for instance people whose narcissism is tied to their career and/or to their fraudulent respectability are drawn to LinkedIn, and people whose narcissism is purely sexual are drawn to ChatRoulette. YouTube is a great outlet for exhibitionists, from boys doing dangerous stunts e.g. with fire, to cops beating up protesters, to girls showing how to put on make-up. These narcissist-exhibitionist services are so plentiful and varied, there is something for everyone, except perhaps for normal people.

  • Joe

    Who was really surprised by the changes to FB’s privacy policy?

    Let’s walk through it, shall we? FB makes money from selling ads and selling user information to advertisers.

    FB goes public and now has to answer to shareholders. (Remember, businesses exist to make money) Shareholders want more profit and thus FB must push to add revenue and reduce costs. Ergo, they sell your data and add more advertisements.

    The honeymoon is over. Invest in an adblocker.

  • Fred

    If you want to achieve privacy online, there are steps you can take.

    1. Never upload photos of yourself.
    2. Never type in your bank or credit card info —> No online purchases.
    3. Access the Internet using the Tor service to hide your IP address.
    4. Use the private browsing mode of Firefox.
    5. Do not browse with Flash installed or Javascript enabled.

  • chrisnfolsom

    This is very different than many other issues – if GPS is enabled on your phone/computer they know where you are within feet. Along with Gender/Age/Personal information and friends and images. Just because people are ignorant is NO reason to allow it – very different than ANY previous privacy issues.

    • Fred

      Only use a cell phone that is very easy to switch off, and keep it shut off most of the time.
      There is no freedom without privacy.

      • chrisnfolsom

        There is no freedom with ignorance either. As with advertising today – the intent is not to enlighten the users, but confuse and get people to react emotionally – it’s much harder to teach. This is a disconnect to the entire intent of advertising and information in general.

        • Fred

          Solution 1: Buy less.
          Solution 2: Block ads.

      • tony

        you may need to take the battery out also, or wrap in a radio impermeable container.

  • Bill Davis

    It was brought up during the discussion how a mobile phone user can decline to let Facebook mine their contacts to keep their privacy, but what about their friends who have their contacts mined by FB? Don’t we have zero control in the end?

  • Davtwo Frompmog

    Couple of issues. 1) Is the click-to-agree still legal in light of privacy concerns and 2) I have not yet received an announcement as to failhook’s change in terms.

  • Jon Gold

    I’ve been on and off FB since ’08 (deactivated account, which doesn’t mean you start over…FB keeps all info indefinitely), I rarely post, rarely read much of friends’ ‘banter’…and see the importance, but it’s an unusual way to conduct friendships…you basically have the same friends forever? Real life human to human contact is very different and changes and develops in different ways. I know it’s successful somehow, but I am extremely careful with it including using a faux FB name. Is this illegal?

  • Tristan

    I personally found a solution to lower the privacy issue : fighting them back with *wrong* information. Anything in my profile is wrong.
    After all, you don’t need more than your first name for your friends to recognize you. Even your email can be one made specially for junk emails and social networks…
    For me, questionable information makes it useless. And we can play this game very easily as a response against their abuse of our privacy.

  • Jorgen

    I originally joined Facebook (in 2006) because I refused to join MySpace mostly because of how visually ugly MySpace was. I quit Facebook last month because it seems to becoming commercially ugly.

    I really don’t miss it a bit. I don’t know what upgrades my cousin has made to his truck lately and it really doesn’t bother me. The information on Facebook about my friends and family is readily available via a more antiquated but intimate phone call or good old email. Also [disregarding the claims made by some paranoid friends] I’m in complete control of who gets to see my personal communications.

    I admit I’m still “in deep” with Google and Apple. I use Twitter AND yes I’ve got about a million cookies and get SPAM everyday… However Facebook should be careful. Their business is selling good feelings. They have no physical product like a smartphone to really capture users. The world turns and just like MySpace the sun will set on Facebook. Is it dusk already?

  • WhatsForDinner

    I don’t trust Facebook and have never joined. (Nor has my tech savvy 16-year-old son.) My problem is that Facebook has increasingly become the ONLY public source of information on events. I have missed information on everything from my high school reunion to my daughter’s water polo announcements, all because I refuse to jeopardize my privacy.
    Yes, I choose not to join. But when Facebook increasingly monopolizes the availability of information, making it available only on its sites, I lose.

  • jim

    There’s a new app that helps facebook users set their privacy in a clear and user-friendly manner, and that will alert users to changes by Facebook as they occur, so that the users will be aware and can adapt to them by changing their settings: http://www.setmyprivacy.com/?utm_source=privacywatch&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=privacynews01

  • Steve0

    I found Elliot Shrage’s call to Kara Swisher during the break
    illustrative of the asymmetric relationship between Facebook and its
    users. Facebook expects users to tell it everything while Facebook
    would prefer to lurk in the shadows instead of clearly explaining its actions.

  • Vicky Chang

    Michael is not mentioning that FORUM itself encourages listeners to use Facebook. Where I volunteer at the San Francisco Dept of Environment, is now coordinating its hundreds of volunteers including dates and locations solely through Facebook, which anyone can see. And let’s not forget that Facebook unlike the older myspace, has people often using their REAL names as their user names – that I argue, makes Facebook closer to the monopolistic Ma Bell of old! Opting out is less of an option when so many businesses and non-profits make participating dependent on using facebook. And now you’re telling us to opt out of our community ???

  • AJ

    I am in the minority of users who is NOT (and never have been) on Facebook or any other social media. Yet, there are so many tagged photos, posts, etc with my personal information widely disseminated by other people. If someone who has no relationship with facebook can’t control dissemination of their information on the platform, is any discussion of privacy moot?

  • sharon

    as an old grad of the Cal MBA program, I can only note that the only goal of any corporation is to the maximize the price of a share of common stock.

  • tony

    Bothered that in the rebuttals to the no-right-to-complain; it’s-free; you-can-opt-out arguments, no mention was made that the consumer, i.e. the product being sold to advertisers, is not just a commodity but a human person with certain inalienable rights, or has that gone by the board? Sorry if I missed, but I didn’t hear that objection. Also hope that Marc Rotenberg’s low-key but persistent arguments registered with listeners. It’s not up to the consumer to opt out so much as it’s up to Facebook to honor their contracts.

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