Facebook Addresses Privacy Concerns on Eve of Historic IPO


Facebook may feel it has addressed privacy time and time again during its brief history, including recently addressing concerns about app privacy with the launch of Timeline.

But on the eve of its historic $96 billion (up to $104 billion) initial public offering, when it is expected to sell shares on NASDAQ starting Friday, Chief Privacy Officer for Policy Erin Egan hosted a live event today concerning the latest changes to its privacy policy in response to an audit by the Irish government.[more]

Major changes include details on how Facebook uses cookies to improve performance but not track users across the web; FB’s existing policy of using data to serve ads outside of Facebook.com while a user is on other websites; and when Facebook will “retain [your] data as long as necessary to provide you services” whether that amounts to more or less time.

Facebook last week launched a Facebook Terms and Policies Hub at facebook.com/policies, which is available at the bottom of most pages on Facebook under the word “Terms” as well as on the Help Center, housing its ten core policy documents.

“Facebook, infamous for its changing policies and confusion among users about what they’re getting themselves into when they use the world’s largest social network, has finally aggregated all its terms and policies under the same roof…However, all of these links actually lead to a lot of information,” Mashable commented.

Sarah Downey, privacy analyst and attorney at software vendor Abine, warns that once Facebook goes public, pressure to generate more revenue will leverage users’ personal information to sell targeted advertising. 

“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,” Downey told ComputerWorld. “They’re talking about expanded use of your data with lots of little changes that are important. And Facebook is the master of these little changes adding up to big things.” 

For example, notes ComputerWorld, “even if a Facebook user does not share his or her phone number or email address publicly, default settings will make it possible for others to search for the user on Facebook using that information.” And, the new policy, committed to “delivering relevant ads to you,” by definition involves sharing user data with third-party advertisers.

Facebook will deliver alerts about the changes on its web and mobile interfaces (where user photos are now bigger, by the way) and is inviting user feedback on the proposal until 5:00PM PT on May 18th — the day of its IPO, when Mark Zuckerberg will ring the NASDAQ opening bell from FB HQ in Menlo Park, CA.

Not everyone’s feeling reassured, naturally — flashmob protests over privacy concerns are scheduled in New York and San Francisco, with the rallying cry that “Facebook’s going public, but you don’t have to.”