Privacy Watchdogs Appeal Facebook Changes Directly to Zuckerberg

Tuesday, 27 Nov 2012 12:56 PM

By Dale Eisinger

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Two watchdog groups are so concerned about recent privacy and support changes proposed for Facebook that they have addressed a personal appeal to CEO Mark Zuckerberg in hopes of preventing them.

Facebook announced the major modifications through a blog post last week and the letter from the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy soon followed.
 
EPIC and the CDD cite three major concerns: ending a site governance system that allows Facebook’s one billion users a voice in changes to the site, eliminating a messages mechanism, and the way Facebook wants to aggregate personal information from other platforms.

“Because these proposed changes raise privacy risks for users, may be contrary to law, and violate your previous commitments to users about site governance, we urge you to withdraw the proposed changes,” says the letter to Zuckerberg.

The current site governance system allows for a user vote when more than 7,000 comments are received on a blog post regarding a proposed changed; if 30 percent of users then oppose the change in a site-wide poll, the change would not be implemented. The concern, according to the letter to Zuckerberg, is the loss of transparency and openness when changes to the site are implemented.

Facebook plans to eliminate the “Who can send you Facebook messages” mechanism, to be replaced by a series of message filters. EPIC and CDD are worried that a reduction of policy language in Facebook’s user agreement will lead to privacy issues with who can send users messages, obfuscating previous language in its privacy policy.
 
The third concern relates to the collection of personal data.

“We may share information we receive with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Facebook is part of,” Facebook’s recent blog post said, “or that become part of that group (often these companies are called affiliates). Likewise, our affiliates may share information with us as well.”
 
The EPIC/CDD letter notes this will most likely cause changes to the way user accounts of Instagram, a photo-sharing platform purchased by Facebook, will interact with Facebook. This is a concern because, when Facebook bought the service in April 2012, they said they were committed “to building and growing Instagram independently.” The new language in the privacy policy contradicts that position.
 
EPIC and the CDD claim the proposed changes jeopardize user privacy and the terms of a recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, settled in August, that alleged Facebook publicly exposed private user information.

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