Social Media Drops Another "P" Bomb On TGIF

Who releases a major privacy change to its social network on a Friday evening prior to a holiday weekend? Well, if you're the social network that has rebuffed privacy issues in the past, and believes that online privacy is no longer a "social media norm," I guess it's your world to dictate, and we are still the "dumb f*cks" you so aptly named some six years ago.

It's 9PM on Friday evening, January 14 - do you know where your mobile phone number and home address are?

Well, I am sure you weren't waiting patiently by your computer for Facebook's platform development relations manager Jeff Bowen to issue his next blog, accompanied by another Facebook "P" bomb! Perhaps, that's why Bowen sent it when he did. So by the time that the Martin Luther King's holiday rolled around on Monday, the passing of time would diffuse some of its impact.

Not the case. The blogosphere is in overdrive criticizing Mark Zuckerberg et al for infringing on its users' privacy rights once again. According to Bowen's blog, this new initiative will make a user's address and mobile phone numbers accessible as part of the social network's User Graph. In summary, this means that users' private contact info will now be available to third party developers of such apps as Zynga's widely popular online games of FarmVille and Mafia Wars to name just a few.

While Facebook's acknowledges that this is "sensitive information" to release, it assures its users that the only way application developers can get to this data is by the user granting a special opt-in permission waiver. It also noted that these permissions only provide access to a user's address and mobile phone number - not his or her friends' addresses or mobile phone numbers. Wow, isn't that a relief!

Where this is seen as a slippery slope, many critics believe that this new policy will leave users open to security threats by rogue developers. Graham Cluely at Internet Security research firm Sophos noted in his analysis, that "Facebook is already plagued by rogue applications that post spam links to users' walls, and point users to survey scams that earn them commission - and even sometimes trick users into handing over their cellphone numbers to sign them up for a premium rate service."

Others not impressed with Facebook's nod to the users' opt-in form included Marc Rotenberg, Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director. "It is a consent requirement, but the notice is so confusing to users it makes it seem though the information is necessary for the application to work," he says. "Then there is the very real risk that over time Facebook will change the default opt-in to opt-out. After all it has made so many changes to its privacy policy, why not this one too at some point?" he added.

On the flip-side, Geoff Duncan of Digital Trends sides with Zuckerberg's assumptions that privacy is no longer a social norm. "Zuckerberg may be correct in asserting there is a growing generation of Internet users who don't care whether information they post to Facebook …is widely shared," he asserts.  However, he also sees the possibility of a "backlash" where the data "users choose to share with the world is exaggerated, half-true, or outright fictional… where users actually create online personas."

As a result, lack of online privacy would actually work counter to Facebook's business interests. Instead of providing their advertisers with targeted data, it would be issuing information that is fabricated.

So, readers, how have these privacy issues affected how you conduct yourselves in the Facebook milieu? Still a "dumb f*ck" or do you hide behind an online persona? Weigh in, and let us know how you are adapting to a world that is slowly losing the "social media norm" of privacy?

UPDATE - January 18, 2011 - TechCrunch - Facebook backpedals - is their statement...

Over the weekend, we got some useful feedback that we could make people more clearly aware of when they are granting access to this data. We agree, and we are making changes to help ensure you only share this information when you intend to do so.

We’ll be working to launch these updates as soon as possible, and will be temporarily disabling this feature until those changes are ready. We look forward to re-enabling this improved feature in the next few weeks.

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