Facebook Takes Flak over Privacy

PUBLIC SERVICE, 17 May 2010

Omar Chatriwala - AlJazeera

Facebook, the social sharing website, has come under growing criticism for recent changes to its privacy settings, which make it easier for users’ information to be spread beyond the site.

The number of Facebook users interested in deleting their accounts on the website, which boasts more than 400 million registered members, has doubled in the past week, according to figures released by the search engine Google.

A website has also now been launched, urging those “sick of Facebook’s lack of respect for your data” to quit the website in joint protest on May 31. In the site’s first day, it had garnered more than 680 pledges to do so.

Confusing options

The changes made to Facebook recently allow third-part websites, like news outlet WashingtonPost.com and music site Pandora Radio, to automatically tap into a users’ profiles and their friends’ activities without being first asked for permission.

Instead, a user must navigate Facebook’s labyrinthine settings pages to opt-out of the feature.

Many users, first learning of the changes by finding their information on those other websites, have greeted the news with anger.

Some complained they were unaware of, or didn’t understand, the changes made to the company’s more than 5,800-word privacy policy. Others accuse the website of seeking to exploit its users by controlling access to their private information.

Facebook executives, however, say users love the changes, and attribute a negative backlash to media outlets and organisations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

A detailed infographic from the New York Times gives you an idea of the complexity of Facebook’s privacy management settings.

Displeasure over the company’s policies has stirred a group of four developers to start work on an alternative to the 400 million user website.

Interest in Diaspora*, which aims to create a more privacy-aware social platform, has been so high that the group met their funding goals in less than a third of the time they’d hoped for.

However, Ben Parr, the co-editor of the social networking blog Mashable, says Facebook does not appear to be significantly impacted by this latest round of anger and criticism.

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