Last week Facebook unveiled proposed changes to its Data Use Policy (DUP) and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR) and, as is usually the case when Facebook makes any changes, privacy advocates and conspiracy theorists immediately started speculating about the dire consequences for the more than 1 billion Facebook members.
To give Facebook its due, not only did it highlight the major changes to each document in a blog post but it also provided redlined copies of both the DUP and SRR so interested parties could examine the amendments in greater detail. However, judging by the subsequent coverage both in print and online, that did little to allay the suspicions of many commentators.
In many ways, Facebook is a victim of its own success. Companies make changes to their DUPs (Privacy Policies) and SRRs (Terms of Service) all the time but none of them attract the scrutiny that Facebook does. Perhaps that’s understandable – Facebook effectively trades in our private information, albeit private information that we are only too happy to hand over free of charge.
Facebook is also learning what it’s like to be a big company. Back in 2009, to help ward off mounting criticism over constant changes to its DUP, Facebook decided that if it received more than 7,000 comments on a particular change it would put the change up for a vote. The result of the vote would be binding on Facebook if more than 30% of all active registered users actually voted.
Now, as many people pointed out at the time, such a process, while appearing democratic and empowering, was mostly a PR exercise. Even when membership was “only” 300 million, the likelihood of 90 million of those members bothering to vote was nonexistent. So even back then, Facebook was free to make whatever changes it desired, just as long as it didn’t upset too many of the faithful.
And, of course, therein lies the key to Facebook’s success and its continuing ability to do virtually whatever it likes with our information. Despite the dozens of privacy flaps over its 8-year existence, multiple fines and sanctions imposed by U.S. and European regulators, and a myriad of private lawsuits, Facebook continues to attract and retain tens of millions of fans, passing the 1 billion mark in total membership only last month.
Subconsciously or not, the overwhelming majority of Facebook members waive their rights to privacy as soon as they sign up. Why else would we blindly give Facebook our personal data, including school and work background, family photos, details of our relationships, and so much more. The fact that Facebook then uses that information to make money is inconsequential to most users; we are more concerned with how many people “liked” our new profile picture or who got drunk at the 10-year college reunion.
If you are really serious about online privacy, then go straight to page 4 of the new Facebook DUP. That’s where you will find instructions on how to deactivate and delete your account!
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