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04 August, 2009

New ways that Facebook violates privacy policies

Facebook does not, apparently, need to adhere to the same rules of security or privacy as other online institutions. I have observed three ways that they violate users' privacy, in spite of any privacy settings you might make.
  1. If you make yourself appear "offline" in Facebook chat, then you should not appear in someone's chat list. This works. Well, there's an exception. If I connect to Facebook from my iPhone, then I can see you in my chat list, even if you said you don't want to be seen. I can't actually chat with you - I get an error - but I can see that you're online. This is a privacy "hole" that Facebook did not block.

  2. If you set your Facebook privacy so that you cannot be found using the Facebook Search capability, then I will not find you if I search for you. Well, there's an exception, of course. Even though Facebook doesn't find you, there's a Web Search results section on the right side of the search results page, and it may find you there, providing me the link to your profile, even though you told Facebook not to let you be searchable. Of course, it's really no different than if I used Google to search for you. But it defeats the purpose of blocking search.

  3. It appears that Facebook will, of its own free will, troll through your email contacts, if you have ever given it permission to look there. And it is not clear to me how one can withdraw that permission. At one point early in the game, I had let Facebook have the access to my Yahoo and Gmail contact lists so it could find Facebook users. But once they started doing the "People you may know" feature, it now seems like it is "revisiting" the contact list, and making suggestions from there. This, to me, seems like a privacy violation. I think Facebook should only have privilege to look at that list once and it should not retain access capability, and also should not maintain the list of contacts.
It's a fun program, for sure. And social networking is becoming a broad reality in our culture. But it's a bit scary that this one organization, Facebook, now knows everyone that we know, everything that we do, and everyone with whom we have ever been in electronic communication.

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