Changes to Privacy Policy Bring Scrutiny to Facebook

For time immemorial, privacy has been a cornerstone of democracy and free societies. Although people now post personal photographs, messages and other information haphazardly on the internet, there is still the notion that social media sites, e-mail and other web-based communiqué come with a certain level of privacy. Websites like Facebook and MySpace have extensive privacy policies that outline how your personal information is used and who will have access to it—although few, if any, people ever take the time to read these documents thoroughly.

In recent months, Facebook has come under scrutiny for several changes the company has implemented in its privacy policy. Instead of receiving protection from stringent privacy settings, which used to be the case, users now have to alter the settings themselves if they wish to keep particular information private. The company has even announced that it will be sharing user information with third-party sites.

While you may assume that switching the settings on your account is a simple process, according to a recent article in the New York Times, “To opt out of full disclosure of most information, it is necessary to click through more than 50 privacy buttons, which then require choosing among a total of more than 170 options.” And even with all of the privacy settings in place, there are still ways for marketing companies and other outside sources to gain access to your information under the new privacy policy.

In response to the changes in the company’s privacy policy, four democratic senators wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking him to review the changes to the privacy policy and informing him that the Federal Trade Commission will be examining the issue. The crux of the concern for the senators is the transfer of data between Facebook and other websites, a phenomenon described by Zuckerberg as “Open Graph.”

This isn’t the first time that Facebook users have expressed disdain for a change in the company’s privacy policy. When there was public outcry over previous changes, the company reached out to users and asked for suggestions on how to improve the policy. However, there are new aspects of this debate outside of privacy settings. New features such as the ‘Like’ button  allow users themselves to disseminate information across the web, and while some may not realize it, applications of this nature pose some of the biggest threats to privacy.

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