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Crisis meeting for Facebook

Maggie Shiels | 08:50 UK time, Thursday, 13 May 2010

It seems Facebook has gone into panic mode amid a constant barrage of complaints, questions and concern over privacy.

facebook was one of the first blogs to report that the world's biggest social network "has called an all hands meeting tomorrow afternoon, at 4PM Pacific, to discuss the company's overall privacy strategy according to sources inside the company".

As we reported in Tech Brief, the company's vice president of public policy, Elliot Shrage, tried to allay concerns over privacy by holding a question and answer session with the New York Times this week.

The paper said it had over 300 questions from readers which they whittled down, proof that a growing number of users are confused and worried about how their private information is being treated by the world's biggest social network.

Facebook's crisis meeting shows that Mr Shrage's explanation to the Times and its readers clearly didn't cut it:

"We've worked hard to educate our users about changes to, and innovations in, our products. Facebook users receive notices about our new products and whenever we propose a change to any policies governing the site, we have notified users and solicited feedback."

The barrage has been constant over the last couple of days.

My post earlier this week about the anti-Facebook network called Diaspora shows that the issue is gaining traction.

There was also the news from Alison Diana at Information Week that "the phrase 'how to quit Facebook' generated 16.9 million results in a Google search Tuesday morning, while 'how do I delete my Facebook account?' resulted in 15.9 million links".

Jason Calcanis, another well-known blogger, penned his own take on the Facebook privacy debacle by suggesting that founder Mark Zuckerberg has gone too far of late in how he is treating users and developers.

"Over the past month, Mark Zuckerberg, the hottest new card player in town, has overplayed his hand," said Mr Calcanis in his post:

"Facebook is officially 'out', as in uncool, amongst partners, parents and pundits all coming to the realization that Zuckerberg and his company are-simply put-not trustworthy."

And now in what is being termed the strongest rebuke yet, European data protection officials said in a letter [16KB PDF] that "it is unacceptable that the company fundamentally changed the default settings on its social-networking platform to the detriment of a user".

A graphic by the New York Times shows just how confusing and bewildering Facebook's privacy policy is with 50 settings and 170 options.

The paper also reveals that the policy is longer than the United States' constitution with 5,830 words.

There is little doubt that this shows Facebook has tied itself in knots over privacy and a bit of clarity is what is needed.

Read Write Web's Marshall Kirkpatrick has tried to help Facebook out by pointing out that its gargantuan privacy policy does have some good bits.

His favourites include blocking access by particular people, publishing only to particular lists and limiting access to data by applications.

In the space of a 15-minute block on Twitter, this is what users had to say about the company and its direction:

@l_e_o_v Longer than the US Constitution : FB privacy policies
@BlakJakNZ Has anyone asked Facebook to limit 'like' publicity to mutual friends? @vavroom
@brezina I thought this fb privacy uproar was a tech blogger thing, but in last 2 days 2 non-tech friends cancelled their acct. This is real
@TroyGoodfellow Facebook apps that spam everyone on your list? Not cool. This is why people hate you. And now me.
@grinding4ddub i just deleted my 2 myspace accounts.....facebook might be next
@ericzoo Looks like Facebook's privacy mess is a slow motion car crash. #startups there is a lesson to be learned here.
@nowthatsmint ugh. ok facebook you are annoying me.. time to minimalize you! right now!
@stoweboyd Facebook Privacy Mess Facebook has to do more than communicate better
@HuRa After Facebook privacy blowback #984, who's buying Zuckerberg's next public "Aw gee shucks, sorry guys" apology?


  • 1. At 09:14am on 13 May 2010, Coup Attempt wrote:

    Hang on a sec. Last July you were telling us that Facebook was " over". So why does it still vex you so much?

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  • 2. At 09:17am on 13 May 2010, Graphis wrote:

    I was recently shocked to discover just how much someone unknown to me, such as a potential employer for example, could discover about me from my Facebook page, despite having taken care about my privacy settings. I was also shocked to see that I could 'eavesdrop' on friends' conversations with their friends: something I'm sure they never intended. It seems that the golden rule is that if you want privacy, pick up the phone.

    I'm seriously considering deleting my FB page: it's not actually necessary to my continued existence.

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  • 3. At 09:42am on 13 May 2010, MacBookPro wrote:

    Facebook dosen't have a chance to handle my information badly, as I don't have an account.

    I suggest you follow suit if you're concerned about privacy (as you should be).

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  • 4. At 09:56am on 13 May 2010, Cameron wrote:

    I had a massive wake up call after watching the documentary 'Erasing David Bond' a few weeks ago on More 4. Basically a journalist hired private investigators to find him by tracking his data. It took 18 days, and one of the methods they used was Facebook.

    I think everyone (including companies like Facebook) is waking up to realise that we don't understand the implications of our personal data being so accessible and when we do, we don't know what to do about it other than to opt out completely.

    Companies like Facebook need to be educating the public and leading the charge in protecting their users privacy or they are going to have large amounts of people simply deleting their accounts because the public think that is the only option to protect privacy.

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  • 5. At 11:31am on 13 May 2010, soton1990 wrote:

    My employer gave me a disciplinary for joining a Facebook group against them opening a store in a local town. I was invited by a friend who lives in the town to join and thought nothing of it until I was called into a meeting and told by my managers that I had a complaint from head office. My Facebook profile is set to private, but it had the details of where I worked on there. I was informed by my managers that apparently someone in head office had used the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to obtain these details from Facebook. I'm not sure how true this was, but there is no other way they could have obtained my details (my profile was set to private, I'm not friends with any managers or dodgy fake profiles).

    What annoyed me the most was that the woman from head office who made the complaint was able to hide behind a veil of anonymity and they wouldn't give me her name or contact details and yet my privacy had been violated.

    Mentioning no names of course, but the company I work for is a major supermarket beginning with S.

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  • 6. At 12:02pm on 13 May 2010, Mark_MWFC wrote:

    Concerned about inappropriate material appearing on yor Facebook account?

    Don't post it then.


    Honestly, the world is so full of whinging crybabies it's not real. Exercise a bit of judgment folks. It's nobody's fault but yours.

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  • 7. At 12:21pm on 13 May 2010, Batcow wrote:

    "Facebook dosen't have a chance to handle my information badly, as I don't have an account."

    That's where you're wrong. For example if your email buddies hit the button that allows FB to trawl through their email to build a friends list then FB will know about you and they'll easily build a list of some of your friends who are FBers, even though you've never signed up with them. When they sell this data to others the question of your permission never arises. I'm not saying the FB and other such sites do this but they can do it and are motivated by profit to provide as much information to their customers as possible.

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  • 8. At 12:22pm on 13 May 2010, Cameron wrote:


    For me this is not about being found to be acting inappropriately, this is about who is allowed to access my information and how they are allowed to use it.

    There are times when I don't want people accessing my information even when what I'm saying is appropriate. I don't want advertisers getting hold of my information to profile me and I don't want people to be able to mine my information to find out my things like my location, as was famously shown a few months ago by a spoof site called 'Please Rob Me'.

    As I mentioned earlier, there has to be a way companies we can participate in the online world AND control our data / personal identities.

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  • 9. At 12:44pm on 13 May 2010, Dave A wrote:

    I find Facebook very useful for keeping in touch with friends and family and would like to continue using it. I understand that they need to make money somehow so can tolerate ads on every page and have no objection to them taking a cut from the extras available in the various games that they host.

    If they make it clear which of my data is being made available to whom, in what circumstances, and easy to opt in/out then I can make a rational decision whether to remain, and what to post if I do. However, FB seem intent on making these things as opaque and difficult as possible with changes to settings made with little announcement and scant explanation of the effect. Something akin to "It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."

    Unless they show a marked improvement in attitude and consequent improvement in transparency I shall delete my account, assuming that I can find the option to do so.

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  • 10. At 1:11pm on 13 May 2010, TymeFly wrote:


    I also thought that "Facebook dosen't have a chance to handle my information badly, as I don't have an account", but as it turns out that isn't quite true....

    A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from Facebook to say a friend had up loaded some pictures that I might want to take a look at. That was fair enough, but along with it was a list of my friends they had got from some where. Some are colleagues (old and new), others were friends and family. The only thing these people have in common is that they all know me.

    After chatting with a few of them it turns out when they registered they gave Facebook access to their e-mail accounts so it could search Facebook for addresses of people they know. My guess (and it is a guess) is that Facebook has read my e-mail address from these people and started to work out a profile about me. They've done this knowing that I'm *NOT* one of their users and therefore have not signed up to their terms and conditions.

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  • 11. At 1:15pm on 13 May 2010, Gregor wrote:

    @ Mark_MWFC

    and what if someone else (like a "friend") posts inappropriate material about you, tags you so everyone can see it, then someone looking for information on you will also see it.

    If you ask me they are making a mess here. The whole things is simple - by default only your family can see data your, while friends can see only what oyu enable them to see. Instead default option is everyone can see everything about you and then you need to block them slowly... If you can. Just a day ago i got a function option to connect to certain other sites (such as my company site). When i choose i don't want to do it the facebook said but then you data on this won't be shown. How about i don't connect to sites, yet the data is still shown for my family?

    Best thing to do is to watch what you put on if you are using it. I see a lot of my friends are quite happy putting their toddlers on. I would never do it. You never know where a paedophile connected through a friend fo a friend might be lurking for these kind of photos....

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  • 12. At 1:19pm on 13 May 2010, Rob wrote:

    I thought Facebook (and social networks in general) are for those people who are to either lazy to create their own webpage or in search of a delusion convincing them they have a fulfilling life when in fact they are lonely and insignificant.

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  • 13. At 1:53pm on 13 May 2010, MacBookPro wrote:


    So they know the e-mail addresses of people I may or may not be friends with? That information will hardly be accurate, as many mail providers (e.g. Gmail) will add anyone who ever e-mails you or who you ever e-mail to your contacts, even if it was, say, one e-mail to someone working for a company.

    And even if it was, they can't legally share that info without my permission, and as I have no account I have not given them such permission - and there is still no way they can obtain photos of me, my full name, date of birth, address, etc.

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  • 14. At 1:58pm on 13 May 2010, usdeeper wrote:

    I don't get it myself. I find old friends, keep in touch with current friends. I do not have 600 unknown people in my friends list. I don't post my address or any other information on how to contact me. I use a free email account to link to the FB account. I do not list my current work place and do not add anyone from my current place of work. I post no comments that my current work place could ever get upset over.

    I don't post anything that I would not say to someone face to face or that I need to hide behind privacy. FB is a great tool for what it was originally designed for. I have to wonder who those people are that post personal information believing it is in some way safe.

    Use the website to find people, to post minor information or pictures etc.. but if you want further conversations with people, pick up the phone or write an email.

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  • 15. At 2:35pm on 13 May 2010, Calum Carlyle wrote:

    gregor3000, so you think everybody in the entire online world can trust every member of their family? Plus, who decides who to believe about who is a family member? If some second cousin i have never met claims to be "family", would you accept that? Or would i be asked to confirm it?

    The whole area is a minefield, regardless of anybody saying how easy it is to administrate.

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  • 16. At 4:26pm on 13 May 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    I was in and out of FaceBook as fast as I could type.
    Security, privacy, the paranoiac feeling of being watched.
    I was among the over-55 group that joined en masse in 2008. Less than 2 weeks after joining, I defected.
    Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg said (to a live audience) that openly sharing information with many people is today's social norm. FaceBook doesn't think its users want much privacy. I reckon, being older (and hopefully wiser), I wanted more privacy than the social norm.
    Facebook, and other social networking sites like Twitter, make money from the information that you share. Ask yourself: do you know just how much information you are sharing that can be used not only by Facebook, but by the application developers. E.g. Want to take that quiz to find how romantic you are? Each time you take a quiz, almost everything on your profile is made available to the creators of on application.
    Why is it that as soon as you figure out the privacy settings on FaceBook, they get changed?
    When you’re using Facebook, have you gotten messages on your wall asking "Have you seen this picture?" or "Is this video about you?" Click on the link and you're likely to get infected malware.
    Another trick: pop-ups that claims your computer is infected and prompt you to download software to fix it. Instead of helpful software, you get a worse problem than you started with.
    When you update your Facebook status or playing a location-sharing game through Twitter, you put yourself in a dangerous zone, lots of poeple have just found out where you are. Also, Facebook is making it possible for people to be cyber stalked, even when the “friendship” ends.
    I see very little value to social networking sites.
    So I quit FaceBook, and I feel much better for it. Don't miss my "friends" one bit.

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  • 17. At 4:43pm on 13 May 2010, jamesinpiter wrote:

    "and there is still no way they can obtain photos of me..."

    Yes they can. If you are ever in a photograph taken by someone who has a facebook account and they take a photograph with you in it and upload it to their account, and then tag it as being you.

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  • 18. At 4:55pm on 13 May 2010, Matt wrote:

    There is no such thing as privacy on the internet. This new social network that boasts to be completely private and secure, the "anti-facebook," Diasporia ([Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]), will eventually be hacked, or screw up and hundreds of people will be aghast that all their "private" data which they posted to an internet site, has been compromised. My policy? Don't post anything online that you wouldn't want broadcast on national television. Does that mean that facebook sucks and everyone should quit and delete their profiles? No. Just don't post "private" information.

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  • 19. At 5:45pm on 13 May 2010, Jon wrote:

    If there's anything worse than using Facebook, it's trying to disable Facebook. For a start, deactivating doesn't delete any of your information. You need to delete the account (you need a special URL to do this, Google it as Facebook doesn't provide it on their help page), and even if you do delete it, some of your information still remains on the site.

    But the deactivation page really takes the biscuit. If you try to deactivate, Facebook shows you pictures of you and your friends together with the captions "Jane will miss you if you leave", "Rob will miss you", etc. How utterly manipulative!

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  • 20. At 7:12pm on 13 May 2010, steelpulse wrote:

    Ms Sheils,

    Facebook and privacy? Hmm. Not enough - privacy? Too much - privacy?

    I never tried Facebook. Well I once "went there" and like several and in my view rather alarming political blog sites - backed carefully away. With regard to Facebook - may I quote the word "poke" without frightening anyone? Excuse me? Another word from the sparse contents of the uncondensed OED wasn't an option?

    My own Social website has so much privacy - it sounds like the opening of the late Ronnie Barker's TV series - Porridge - everytime I go there.

    Various Silicon Valleys still have stories to tell at least one puzzled user of that other web site. I used the word "Social" to describe this web site.

    I believe I excluded the word "Outcast". Distracted perhaps in wondering when the repeat of that updated Patrick McGoohan series is on TV I suppose. The one they set in Portmeirion.

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  • 21. At 7:41pm on 13 May 2010, James wrote:


    "I was informed by my managers that apparently someone in head office had used the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to obtain these details from Facebook."

    The FOI (2000) only applies to public bodies.

    They are lying to you.

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  • 22. At 07:31am on 14 May 2010, THE ROARING FORTIES wrote:

    My face book account asks me if i want to use my e mail contact list to invite people. I say yes, it says it does not store my pass word but strangely has never asked for it since but still uses my contact list when I ask it too. We are lied to all the time.

    Face book is a very successful business and makes a lot of money, I suspect it will probably be purchased by a larger internet company. I wouldn't be surprised if that company are the main complainants about face book in a bid to reduce the offer maybe. Your a bit controlling and narcissistic face book but well done over all

    Life now is completely about money. nothing else at all. Face book is a big money spinner and thats all and if you disagree with it then dont get on board, fairly much like airlines, mobile phone store operatives and bank policies with customers, there is always some one to replace us on this planet, a planet whose ideal population should be five hundred million but currently supports a cancerous 8 billion plus. "well thats your choice sir".... I actually agree with that policy in the instance of forums like facebook. its entertainment, keeps us nicely dumbed down but helps reduce our phone bill. ta da

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  • 23. At 09:15am on 14 May 2010, MyVoiceinYrHead wrote:

    I 'locked down' my Fb account 3 months ago. All people can see is my name and my wall posts. But what I can see about other people though is amazing!

    The vast majority of Fb users are not tech savy, FB is often their only use of the internet other than E-Mail. For Zucker' to expect them to understand, what is even for IT literate people, a convoluted and annoying account privacy process is too much.

    They should have stuck with the simple interface they had 3 iterations ago. But they had to go for the money, try to do a microsoft and take over everything. Shame.

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  • 24. At 11:08am on 14 May 2010, MacBookPro wrote:

    I just read this yesterday, and it will probably be of interest to anyone trusting Facebook with their info... Facebook's CEO called it's over 4,000 members (at the time) who used the site "dumb f---s" for trusting him and submitting their info to Facebook. Do a quick Google and you'll probably find the article, I can't link you because I'm at work.

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  • 25. At 12:23pm on 14 May 2010, Laurie Wilson wrote:

    I'm a regular facebook user (ok,hands up Im addicted to Mafia Wars thanks to a colleague),I've my privacy settings set as tight as I can get them and "friends" who have tried to add me have struggled to find me so "fingers crossed" I'm fairly private on FB. However, I googled my name recently and was shocked to say the least at the amount of information that was available - my personal email, details of isses from various horse forums from over the years and don't get me started on the information that twitter and related sites keep on you long after you stopped using them but bring up an "I hate my boss/life/partner/family" tweet as tweeted one day ago when is more like a year ago, its crazy but in a good way is making me more aware before making glib omments online. I'd hate to think that any potential boss would check out social networking sites before employing someone or check out someone already working for them but perhaps FB/Twitter/Bebo will make the old fashioned reference obsolete? I digress though, FB have "panic" meetings may just be a case of them closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. If they improve privacy, can they clear every search engine of every shred of data relating to their account holders????

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  • 26. At 1:55pm on 14 May 2010, MyVoiceinYrHead wrote:

    @Laurie Wilson.

    I agree, I'd recommend everyone Googles themselves and their login IDs regularly.
    I just did that and the Top 10 hits we're from my Twitter account I deleted over a month ago. If you must tweet, do it annomyously!!

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  • 27. At 1:59pm on 14 May 2010, Peter Hood wrote:

    As you can see I don't put my RL name to much online stuff, least of all my facebook account, which I deleted as I became aware of how egregiously they have behaved. It looks as though I am one of many thousands. Even if it is too late for FB to learn (I think it may be over for them, at least for quite a while), then the sight of corpses swinging in the wind may serve as a good reminder to the aspirational living.

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  • 28. At 2:26pm on 14 May 2010, Laurie Wilson wrote:

    MyVoiceInYrHead wrote

    "I agree, I'd recommend everyone Googles themselves and their login IDs regularly.
    I just did that and the Top 10 hits we're from my Twitter account I deleted over a month ago. If you must tweet, do it annomyously!!"

    Well being honest Twitter has lost its "appeal" to me so I'm rarely on there and facebook I use (albeit regularly) for games and contacting "old" friends however what would concern me would be a similar scenario to Soton1990 above, especially in these recessionary times of constant cost cuts in business. Does our love of all things "social networking" jeopardise our career and is facebooks inability to provide privacy to its users, hand our employers/potential employers our heads on a plate?

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  • 29. At 2:49pm on 14 May 2010, Graphis wrote:

    I Googled myself a while ago, and was shocked to see old posts from the BBC's HYS forum appearing, some from 5 or 6 years ago! What about this, BBC? Why should these still be available? What if I made some comment years ago, that reflected my opinion then, and tomorrow a potential employer Googles me, and decides on the basis of that old information, that I am not suitable for the job? I would like to get these posts removed from the internet, but I don't see how I can.

    I think it's a bit hypocritical that you should report on FB's privacy issues, when you need to sort out how you too contribute the privacy issue.

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  • 30. At 5:05pm on 14 May 2010, Weary Pedant wrote:

    Graphis - I'm surprised that you're surprised that the BBC isn't 'private'. The Beeb is a news organisation and what I am typing here could be read by millions of people (alright, three or four).
    Use aliases and don't write what you wouldn't say in public.
    Facebook purports to give you control over who sees what on your FB page - this doesn't seem to be the case now.

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  • 31. At 10:05am on 17 May 2010, MacBookPro wrote:

    For everyone concerned about their names coming up on Google: that can only happen if they're on the public internet. If you don't want comments made by you coming up when your name is Googled, use aliases online, it's not complicated.

    If you use your full name online as an 'alias', expect to be found. Simples.

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  • 32. At 08:21am on 20 May 2010, Graphis wrote:

    30 & 31:

    Yes, my point exactly. But I didn't realise that until I found out the hard way. But I'd still prefer it if five or six year old comments were no longer available for everyone to see. Why is the BBC still retaining them?

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  • 33. At 00:48am on 04 Jun 2010, justynak4 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 34. At 1:32pm on 04 Jun 2010, Matt wrote:

    Personally what i say is, if your worried about your information privacy, then dont put your information on there! if people are concerned about this, then dont moan about it, dont use facebook. its good for the people that use it right. dont abuse it.

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