Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is Facebook Unethical?

Listening to Twit this week I became aware of controversy over Facebook's privacy policy.  As many of you already know, Facebook decided in response to criticism from the Privacy Commission in Canada, to make changes to its privacy policy in order to better protect users information.  The first part of Facebook's new privacy protection for its users came out last week.  Upon logging in, users were confronted with a screen asking them to accept Facebook's new privacy policy, as well as, set up the privacy rules that the user wanted for their Facebook page.

I had zero problem with Facebook's new privacy policy, as I found that most of my options were set where I wanted them to be.  I practise to keep my Facebook page private, as I have my friends and family on my account, so I made sure to change my settings a while ago.  Unfortunately, I changed it a little too late for some of those Facebook applications, but that's another story.  In any case, it appears because I changed my settings, Facebook maintained those settings as my default when the new policy came out.

But there in lies the problem.  Apparently, for users that never changed there settings, the default answers for the privacy questions was to make everything public. Meaning that your Facebook page is completely visible by everyone on Facebook.  Anything that you write on your Facebook page and even your Friends are now exposed for everyone to see.  Well, that is of course if you made the mistake of just hitting next to get through the privacy page without reading it. 

Facebook's policy of defaulting that all of your data be public has stirred up some anger in the blogoshere.  Internet mogul Jason Calacanis of Mahalo has wrote an e-mail, which he sent to his mailing list, expressing his dissatisfaction with the way that Facebook has decided to handle this whole privacy issue.  Jason went as far to say that the way that Facebook handled this situation was unethical, given the fact that everyone knows that people for the most part don't read policy agreements, but instead just hit 'Agree'.  He also goes on to discuss his concern for how Facebook's actions could lead to the government stepping in to regulate the social network market.

I have to agree with Jason and his concerns.  I often don't read privacy agreements or terms of service.  I just scroll to the bottom , if that is required, and hit 'agree'.   As for Facebook's policy however, I felt that it was fairly straight forward, and I made sure to go through it to check where I wanted all of my settings to be.  So I'm a bit unsympathetic to some of this anger, but the truth be told, I have to agree that Facebook should have made it an opt-in for people's personal information to be public instead of an opt-out.

By now your probably wondering why Facebook would want your information to be public.  According to Jason (and by the way Kevin Rose), Facebook wants more of its data to be search able in order to generate revenue.  Facebook currently has a search deal with Google and Bing to make their data search able by those search engines. The more data they have for search, the more money Facebook can generate from their search deal.  So there is a pay off for Facebook to give up your information. 

Its certainly unethical if it was Facebook's intention, with this default privacy policy, to get its users to give up their personal information. I hope that it was simply a mistake made by a programmer and not something Facebook planned or we could be in for more of these problems in the future.

So have you been bite by this privacy Faux pas?  And is this Unethical on the Part of Facebook?  Tell me what you think about it.

By they way, anyone interested in reading Jason's e-mail,  you can find it posted here on his blog.  If you want to hear discussion on this privacy issue, just click here and listen to Twit Episode #225.

No comments:

Post a Comment