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Facebook Troubles with User Privacy
On Christmas 2012, Randi Zuckerberg posted a photo of her family to her private Facebook
page. Unfortunately, the privacy settings on Facebook can confuse even the companyâ€™s top
executives. Randi, the sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a former senior
Facebook executive, soon found that her photo had leaked to the general public and had been
tweeted to thousands of people. Randi tweeted Callie Schweitzer, Director of Marketing at
VOX Media, who had first posted the photo to Twitter: â€œNot sure where you got this photo.
I posted it to friends only on FB. You reposting it to Twitter is way uncool.â€83
This incident came only 11 days after Facebook had released new privacy controls meant
to help Facebook users understand who is able to see the content they post. A new shortcuts
toolbar allowed users to control â€œWho can see my stuffâ€ without having to go to a new page.
The new release also offered in-product education. Messages explained how content that users
hide in their timelines could still appear in their news feed and on other pages.84 Evidently,
these controls did not go far enough to protect Randi Zuckerbergâ€™s privacy.
In fact, since Facebook was launched, it has had ongoing issues with addressing the
privacy concerns of its users. In late 2011, Facebook settled a suit filed by the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) that charged Facebook with deceiving its customers about privacy issues
since 2009. (The FTC regulates companies that take credit card information from consumers.)
Facebook claimed that it would not share personal information with advertisers, that third-party
applications would only be given the information they needed to function properly, that no one
could access photos or videos from deleted accounts, andâ€”perhaps most relevant to Randi
Zuckerbergâ€™s experienceâ€”that information posted to an individualâ€™s Friends List would remain
private. The FTC found that the company had not delivered on any of these claims. As part of
the settlement, Facebook agreed to stop these practices until they had a better disclaimer and
opt-out procedure. Mark Zuckerberg also issued a statement saying that, over the course of the
previous 18 months, Facebook had introduced 20 new tools to address these and other privacy related
concerns.85 However, by August 2012, the FTC had launched a new investigation into Facebook
privacy practices. Facebook had partnered with Datalogixâ€”a company that collects credit card
purchasing information, such as where users are shopping and what they buy. Facebook users
were included in Datalogix advertising research although they were not informed of this. Moreover,
if Facebook users did, in fact, find out about the use of their private data, they could only
opt out of the research by going to the Datalogix homepage.86
Facebook has also had privacy problems arise with its subsidiaries. In September 2012,
Facebook acquired Instagram, a social media application that allows users to upload photos
for long-term storage and sharing. Instagram boasted a user-base of 100 million users. On
December 17, 2012, Instagram posted a privacy notice claiming the right to sell all photographs
posted to its site without compensation to the user. The company further claimed that it could
sell any other metadata associated with the photo, such as usernames, gender, addresses,
mobile phone number, and email addressesâ€”all information users were required to provide
when setting up an account.87 Instagram asked users who did not agree with the notice to
remove their accounts within a few weeks. The new policy would go into effect for all users
who accessed their accounts after January 19, 2013.88 The announcement garnered a great deal of public resentment. On December 18, 2012,
Instagram cofounder Kevin Systrom clarified that, despite the notice, the company had no current
plans to sell usersâ€™ photos. He explained that the company would be redrafting the privacy
notice. In the meantime, competitors like Flickr have picked up a larger market share as a result
of Instagramâ€™s privacy misstep.89
Facebook is a powerful tool for communicating and reconnecting with friends and family.
The service it provides is so valuable that users continue to flock to it. However, with every step
forward, Facebook seems to take one or two steps backward in its protection of user privacy.
Whether at the hands of the FTC or the competition, Facebook will no doubt continue to face
repercussions for its decisions.
Although Randi Zuckerberg may have blamed Callie Schweitzer for poor online manners,
it is likely that most of the billion Facebook users would prefer to rely on some mechanism
beyond social media etiquette to protect their photographs and private information.
1. Do you think that Facebook or careless, uninformed users should be held responsible for
privacy issues related to using Facebook? Explain.
2. What additional measures should Facebook take to protect user privacy? What additional
actions are required on the part of Facebook users to maintain adequate privacy?
3. Describe a privacy issue so serious that it would cause you to stop using Facebook.