Social networking website Facebook recently announced that they would be sharing some of their user’s information with the world:
Starting today, we are making limited public search listings available to people who are not logged in to Facebook. We’re expanding search so that people can see which of their friends are on Facebook more easily.
However, it is not just your friends who will be able to find you:
In a few weeks, we will allow these Public Search listings (depending on users’ individual privacy settings) to be found by search engines like Google, MSN Live, Yahoo, etc.
If you object to these steps. Facebook will allow you to avoid this:
As always, if you do not want your public search listing to be visible to people searching from outside of Facebook, you can control that from the Search Privacy page.
So Facebook has decided to share data without asking for permission, and instead posted on its blog this fact, and has given people about 30 days notice to go and change this. They’ve done this before: when they set up their applications to share data with third parties, and when they set up their news feed to spread a users actions to that users network.
In privacy, this is known as an opt-out system: the holder of the data has decided to use your data in a certain way, and lets you stand up to object. This is in contrast to an opt-in system. Under an opt in system, the owner of the data asks for your permission before going off and sharing it further.
The major difference? Think about who has the incentives and costs here. Under opt-out, a person has to continuously monitor what Facebook is doing, they can never expect that what is happening is something they previously ok’ed. Under opt-in, a person can rest easy knowing that no surprises will come along. Under opt-in, Facebook has the incentive to describe the benefits of sharing the information, in order to get user’s permission. Under opt-out, Facebook’s incentive is to not give much notice: the more notice they give, the more people will choose not follow Facebook’s plan for sharing the data. Thus individuals are more informed under opt-in.
Facebook offers a lot of choice in privacy settings. Which is a good feature. But they should stop taking liberties with data, and start asking for permission before spreading it.
This article shows exactly how Facebook is getting away with avoiding the “opt-in/opt-out” distinction:
“The only data that will be available is your profile picture and your name – and then only if you agree that your profile should be searchable,” said [Facebook privacy chief] Chris Kelly.
But the problem is they’re not asking if you agree: they’re assuming you do. Now 40 million people have to find out about this and edit their privacy settings. This instead of Facebook simply selling the program on its merits to users.