Facebook Not Following Its Own Principles

Kurt Opsahl at EFF has an excellent piece demonstrating just how willfully Facebook is grinding user privacy and control into the dust. He takes as his starting point the set of principles to which the service committed in the wake of one of its earlier run-ins with users upset by changes to its policies.

Kurt discusses the social network’s responses to questions posed by New York Times readers to demonstrate his point.

A reader asked Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president for public policy, the key question: “Why can’t I control my own information anymore?”

The answer should have been easy. Facebook’s Principles declare:

People should have the freedom to decide with whom they will share their information, and to set privacy controls to protect those choices.

Instead of saying “Sorry, we’ll fix it,” Facebook’s response was dismissive. The company said that “Joining Facebook is a conscious choice” and more bluntly, “If you’re not comfortable sharing, don’t.” It’s Facebook’s way or the highway. Schrage lists the information that Facebook requires to be public information, focusing on how people choose to submit this information and make connections instead of Facebook’s choice to remove privacy controls.

It isn’t just the one principle, either. As Kurt explains, the ability for users to take their data with them when leaving the service was supposed to be part of the set. Facebook has been suing users who attempt to exercise that ownership over their own data.

Kurt thinks the principles are worthwhile and suggests Facebook could regain user trust by observing them. I am less optimistic and read their defiance of these principles as evidence they have crossed over into acting as a monopolist. They are more interested in serving their own needs for revenue growth than the originally innovation that led to their dominant position.

The many responses in the last few days, including the amazing flood of support for the nascent Diaspora project, form what I consider to be a more effective response. Drain them of their ability to keep exploiting users by cutting off the flow of your personal data.

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