March 23, 2012
Brett Smith for RedOrbit.com
Interestingly, Facebook users´ protests over privacy juxtaposes a desire for socialization with the wish for privacy and personal space.
While many people are lamenting the invasion of Facebook into their personal information, a recent study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences by Western Illinois professor Christopher Carpenter showed a direct correlation between the number of Facebook friends a person has and narcissistic traits such as “grandiose exhibitionism.”
However, users have been railing against the perceived capitalization of their personal information without their direct consent. Facebook has made attempts to snuff out potential privacy-oriented controversies in the past by giving users better options on how their information can be viewed.
Schnitt also explained how harvesting data from users is a vital part of the Facebook experience and is especially important to software developers looking to design applications that build on the existing website.
"Facebook is a social Web site and so is our platform,” he said. “Apps need data from friends to develop these social experiences and that is the whole purpose for our platform.”
Users from around the world are voicing their protests in the comment sections for the proposed changes. Over 32,000 comments on the German-language version of the Data Use Policy page read "Ich lehne die Ãnderungen ab" or “I reject the changes.”
The German government has been consistent with this sentiment, leading the way with respect to protecting their citizens´ privacy on Facebook. Earlier this month, a Berlin court found the Facebook Friendfinder function and certain terms and conditions on the website to be unenforceable under German law. The court also found several other Facebook´s user terms and conditions unenforceable under German law. Among them Facebook´s ability to use any content posted to their site royalty-free including the use of profile images and pictures for advertising purposes.
Some of the changes included in this month's Data Use Policy are attempts are curbing the “dark side” of Facebook. One change listed under the Safety section of the proposal sets new age restriction guidelines for dating applications, which will most likely restrict minors from using them. Another change further restricts photo tagging of users without their consent. This appears to be an attempt to restrict the cyber-bullying that occurs through the use of photo tagging.
Another change that could be seen as benefitting Facebook consumers is the language surrounding the automated collecting of data. The proposed change would require services to ask permission from Facebook before using automated tools to scrape the site for data. Currently, automated tools can be used before receiving this authorization.
In what could be a nod to the recent Berlin court decision, the new proposal also gives Facebook the latitude to disable certain features and functions in certain geographical locations. This would allow the company to avoid legal entanglements over privacy laws that may differ from country to country.
A more sinister way to interpret this aspect of the Data Use Policy would be to say that it is tantamount to censorship. In mirroring Twitter´s ability to stop the flow of information, Facebook could shut the site down in geographic areas of unrest for whatever reason it deems necessary.
This language appears to be carefully crafted as Facebook begins to make overtures toward the Chinese government. In the company´s SEC filing this February, China was mentioned nine times. The company likely sees the world´s most populous country as a huge potential market and may be looking for wiggle room with respect to China´s strict censorship policy without damaging Facebook´s international reputation for change.
China has blocked access to Facebook for the past three years, appearing suspicious of the company´s potential ability to circumvent the ruling Communist Party. That suspicion could be well justified after reading founder Mark Zuckerburg´s open letter to potential investors in which he said his company would seek “a more honest and transparent dialogue around government that could lead to more direct empowerment of people.”
There is no denying Facebook´s universal appeal as the site millions of users can attest to, whether that might be in the United States, Asia, or Europe. Ultimately, the market and Facebook users will determine the acceptance level of the website´s Faustian bargain with respect to privacy.