Facebook changes continue to chip away at privacy

If proposed changes to the Facebook Privacy Policy go through next month, the social network will store financial account information you use to make purchases on its site unless you tell it not to.

That's just one of the concerns I have about the proposed changes, due to go into force in April, that Facebook attempted to slip by users over the weekend. Here's what's on my mind:

1. I object to the idea that Facebook will now store my payment account numbers from now on unless I explicitly bar it from doing so.

If you make purchases through Facebook, the service will store a copy your payment account number information in its database unless you opt out. Currently Facebook can only store those numbers with your explicit consent. Given the poor job the financial services industry has done protecting credit card and other consumer payment account data this would seem to be a very bad idea.

To change this users will need to go to their My Accounts page, click on the Payments tab, go to Payment Methods and click the "manage" hotlinked text.

2. Facebook will be more generous in sharing information about me with third-party web sites and applications.

Language removed: "You can choose to opt out of Facebook Platform and Facebook Connect altogether through your privacy settings."

Added: "When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. We may also make information about the location of your computer or access device and your age available to applications and websites..."

3. The proposed Facebook privacy policy changes were deliberately announced, quietly, over a weekend, when few would notice.

The notice, which I received this morning, was dated March 27th. In addition, once I clicked through and read the proposed changes the notice - and any links to the proposed changes, - simply disappeared from my Facebook page. I was unable to find it on the privacy policy page nor by searching the site. Fortunately I had downloaded a PDF copy of Facebook's proposed privacy policy changes before closing the page.

Facebook still has very much a "doors wide open" approach to privacy - and that door is getting wider. It gives new users less restrictive privacy settings by default. Facebook itself describes quite nicely why you should set your privacy settings very conservatively - and think twice about anything you post or do on Facebook:

"Even after you remove information from your profile or delete your account, copies of that information may remain viewable elsewhere to the extent it has been shared with others, it was otherwise distributed pursuant to your privacy settings, or it was copied or stored by other users."

Translation: Nothing you post on Facebook is ever, truly private.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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