Facebook Announcement Causes Concern

On Friday, Facebook announced some proposed changes to its privacy policy and statement of rights and responsibilities. As usual with this type of document, the language is dense with legalese, but Facebook graciously offers a so-called “redline” version (even though the lines in question are blue). The simplified document highlights the new language while crossing out major changes. Don’t go nuts trying to read the whole thing: there are basically two major changes.

Facebook “Places”:
First are some clues about the social network’s upcoming location-based features. We still have no firm details about how it will function, but a change in language, with a brief explanation, reveals that Facebook doesn’t intend to simply slap a lat-long tag on your status updates and call it a day. The word “place” has now been substituted for “location,” which, as spokesman Michael Richter explains on the Facebook blog, could link to a page for a such as a restaurant. Some, including VentureBeat and ReadWriteWeb, have speculated that Facebook intends to tie the location features to its “pages” to entice advertisers and encourage businesses to increase their presence on The Good Book. This could be the first step in turning Facebook into a competitor for Yelp and Place Pages (especially when paired with Buzz).

A later mention of “places” indicates that other users will be able to tag you as being at a place, the same way they can with photographs. VentureBeat calls this a “subtle but important distinction between the way other location-sharing apps work.”

Privacy and Information Sharing:
Another change to the privacy and statement of rights documents is more troubling. Facebook says that it will now be sharing some “general information” about you with pre-approved sites if you have an account. Essentially, it sounds like the company is automatically turning on Facebook Connect at certain sites without your permission, and has yet to announce what these pre-approved sites are. Facebook defines “general information” pretty broadly as:

“…your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. We may also make information about the location of your computer or access device and your age available to applications and websites…”

ReadWriteWeb described the proposed change as “downright creepy.” We couldn’t have said it better. The changes specify that pages could offer an opt-out option, but the sharing of personal data with third parties should always require explicit permission from the user. TechCrunch points out that, “these sites will also be able to display any data you’ve shared with ‘everyone’, which is of course now the default option on Facebook.”

The twist on location, which the company described as “even more exciting” than its original plans, sounds interesting and addresses some of our questions about what Facebook had to offer in drawing users away from Foursquare, Gowalla, Twitter and Buzz. But that potential is overshadowed by our concern that personal information could potentially be shared without consent.

We ask that Facebook take this proposed revision to its statement of rights and responsibilities into consideration — the only person who has the right to share your information with any third parties is you. [From: Facebook, Inside Facebook, VentureBeat, ReadWriteWeb and TechCrunch, via: CNN]

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