Eric Schmidt of Google, at the Washington Ideas Forum last October, in a widely reported comment said, “There is what I call the creepy line. The Google policy on a lot of things is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”
Has Facebook crossed the creepy line?
Commenting on the amount of personal data that Facebook presents in its new Timeline, Lakatoo CTO Ben Werdmuller said that “it's undeniably, pervasively creepy, to a level we've hitherto been unprepared for in human society.”
Similarly, Mashable founder Pete Cashmore, discussing Facebook's new frictionless sharing feature that divulges more information about members publicly, said, “There's a big problem, however: Users may be 'creeped out' by all this automated sharing of their Web activity and grow suspicious of the apps using it.”
Even more disturbing to many critics is Facebook’s selling its members’ data to third parties without the members’ knowledge or consent.
As The Wall Street Journal reported last October, “Many of the most popular applications, or ‘apps,’ on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people's names and, in some cases, their friends' names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies,”
As Robert X. Cringely and others describe it, selling members’ data, denying it, promising to stop when caught red handed, and then doing it again is Facebook’s modus operandi.
Repeatedly changing members’ privacy settings is part of the process, according to critics and privacy advocates.
As Valerie Helmbreck reported in "How Facebook sells your personal info—and gets away with it," the message from Joan Goodchild, senior editor of CSO (Chief Security Officer) Online, is that "each time Facebook touts a re-design or a new format, you can bet your last nickel that it’s being done as an excuse to re-set your privacy controls to a Facebook-designated default that lets the site’s owners peddle your info and activities far and wide.”
Helmbreck notes that more than a dozen privacy and consumer protection organizations have filed a complaint with the FCC claiming Facebook plays with privacy settings intentionally to make users’ personal info fair game for commercial use.
Said Bill Snyder in “Why Facebook is selling you out — and won't stop,” “Facebook has fooled us not just once, but over and over again, blithely exposing users' private information to any advertiser or creep who happens to get interested. It's a tired drama.”
In February 2011, Bianca Bosker reported that Facebook was moving forward with a plan to give third-party developers and external websites access to users' home addresses and cell phone numbers.
The problem, as Bosker explained, was “Facebook's willingness to change the rules of play—first encouraging people to share personal information with a more limited group of friends, then allowing that data to be accessed in new, unexpected ways.”
Dan Fletcher in Time Magazine wrote that Facebook was on the path to become “the Web’s sketchy Big Brother, sucking up our identities into a massive Borg brain to slice, dice and categorize for advertisers.”
Fletcher noted that Facebook was not a philanthropic organization, rather, “It's a business, and there's a tremendous business opportunity around Facebook's member data. The more updates Facebook gets you to share and the more preferences it entreats you to make public, the more data it's able to pool for advertisers.”
This behavior does not sit well with privacy advocates, however. As Brad Stone wrote in “How Facebook sells your friends,” the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) was among those who filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Stone quotes Marc Rotenberg, EPIC’s executive director, as saying that people join Facebook to share their lives with friends, yet the information they reveal "is being used by strangers for completely unrelated commercial purposes." That, he said, “is a little unsettling."
Many critics believe Facebook has gone too far, and has gone about its business in too deceptive a manner.
Said ZephyrP on Hacker News. “Facebook consistently disregards user privacy issues and doesn't work in a fashion many people believe to be ethical in any sense.”
Wrote Bill Snyder, “My buddy Robert X. Cringely wonders if Facebook is evil or merely incompetent. That's an easy one: both — not to mention arrogant and greedy.”
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