Facebook Privacy Policy Changes Hint At Increased Advertising
May 13, 2012

Facebook Privacy Policy Changes Hint At Increased Advertising

Facebook unveiled updates to their social media network's privacy policy on Friday in order to better explain exactly what the website does and does not do with the information of its users.

According to Chloe Albanesius of PCMag and Cameron Scott of IDG News, the move comes after a December 2011 audit by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner´s Office (DPC), which called upon Facebook to be more open about what happens to the information that users share on the social media website. However, Scott noted that privacy advocates are calling it "an inadequate attempt to quell privacy concerns" prior to the company's forthcoming initial public offering (IPO).

"We´re adding more examples and detailed explanations to help you understand our policies," Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan wrote in a statement Friday. "For example, we include additional tips, marked with a light bulb so you can find them easily.  We´ve added new links to our Help Center.  We created a new section explaining how we use 'cookies' and similar technologies and updated the corresponding explanations about cookies in our Help Center.  We also provide more information about how we use data to operate Facebook, to advertise, and to promote safety and security for Facebook users."

Egan added that the company had also tweaked their privacy policy to cover new features launched since their previous Data Use Policy update, including the Activity Log -- which allows users to see all the information that they had posted to their Facebook account. They also included updates on cover photos and other new features rolled out as part of the switch-over to Timeline, as well as "organizational changes" and "administrative updates" intended to make the privacy policy easier to use.

There may be more to these changes than meets the eye, however.

On Saturday, Reuters reported that the policy changes "could broaden the reach of its advertising business through other websites“¦ The operator of the world's biggest online social network has at no point said it planned to sell advertising on other Internet sites, but the policy changes would further expand its ability to do so."

Likewise, the Associated Press (AP) said said that the updates, which come about a week prior to their IPO -- which could be valued for nearly $100 million -- could be a signal that the social media giant "may start showing people ads on sites other than Facebook, targeting the pitches to interests and hobbies that users express on Facebook."

"Facebook also changed the language about how long it will retain user data. Such information from advertisers will now be kept for 180 days, and Facebook will retain all types of data for 'as long as necessary,'" Reuters said. "Exceptions to the 180-day policy may include, for example, a Facebook page created by an advertiser that showcases certain user information, Egan said. The company will offer a detailed chart of all the types of data it retains about its users at some point 'down the road,' she added.

Facebook attracted the DPC's attention last year following a controversy in June regarding facial-recognition technology used by the social network for easy tagging of photographs, Albanesius said. The technology, which can recognize similar faces when pictures are being uploaded en masse, was introduced with little warning last year, raising security concerns among privacy advocates, she added.

The newest changes are drawing similar concerns, especially in light of the forthcoming IPO.

"Facebook can't possibly protect the privacy of its users and grow as publicly traded company. It's going to be increasingly difficult for them to grow their business significantly without collecting and monetizing more of its data," Center for Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeffrey Chester told Scott.

"Their financial success really requires them to collect more usable personal information and make that information available and accessible to advertisers. We expect that more private information about users is going to be disclosed," added Abine attorney and privacy expert Sarah Downey.