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May
26
2010

No Privacy? Know privacy through improved controls on Facebook

Fran Maier
President
TRUSTe

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Today, Facebook announced significant changes to their privacy settings and controls – changes to both simplify the previous array of privacy options the social networking site presented to its users as well as provide new privacy controls. Importantly, users can now access a “global opt-out” for Instant Personalization and all Facebook platform applications and websites. In addition, your current privacy settings will continue to apply when Facebook introduces new features. Facebook is also dramatically reducing the scope of user information considered “public”. A link to Facebook’s blog post, detailing all of these changes, can be found here.

Because Facebook is a TRUSTe sealholder we have been involved in the ongoing development of Facebook’s privacy framework. As you undoubtedly know, the social graph features and other changes Facebook introduced in April stirred up a whirlwind of privacy concerns from users and experts alike.

What have we done in response? A lot. As noted by Facebook, TRUSTe has been hard at work behind-the-scenes and maintained close contact with Facebook throughout, including onsite visits to their Palo Alto headquarters. We’ve carefully reviewed changes made to Facebook’s functionality, alerted Facebook to privacy vulnerabilities, and recommended a range of privacy enhancing updates to a number of the site’s new features. We found the Facebook team responsive and genuinely interested in doing what’s right for their community. We’re pleased to see that Facebook’s users’ requests and our requirements for privacy enhancing updates are coming to fruition.

Earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg commented on the public’s reception of his site’s numerous, and granular privacy controls, admitting: “we just missed the mark.” We are hopeful that Facebook will look to TRUSTe and others to avoid acting beyond users’ expectations on privacy. Going forward, we’re all committed to a closer relationship between TRUSTe and Facebook.

Will privacy be the Achilles’ heel of Facebook? In the long term that’s doubtful. Facebook has become part of the fabric of 400 million people’s lives. That said, while Facebook will rightly get credit for fixing its recent privacy issues, we believe privacy is not a one-off fix, but an ongoing process and commitment.

For Facebook, perhaps the most compelling reason to adhere to a more proactive privacy strategy, and it’s one that may sound completely counterintuitive, is that trust encourages openness.

Trust has to be earned – and that is done through everyday interactions with the company such as the customer experience, the tone of the emails, and the responsiveness to issues as they arise. When trust is established, everything works better. We don’t feel that we have to read the privacy statement or double-check the privacy settings. The company, in turn, demonstrates a commitment to earning our trust – not only through privacy, but through all of their activities. We understand their use of our information and feel in control.

In the online world, where innovation is the foundation of success, delivering privacy isn’t a one-time act, but a process and a commitment. It’s a process that builds trust through transparency, accountability and choice. When you provide users with these elements – transparency, accountability and choice – they come to trust the online environment and will, in turn, share more information with the confidence that they’ll not be harmed. Of course, there are always individuals within this system that will lock down their personal information to the strictest available standard, but by and large, most people will not.

As I write this post we’re currently reviewing Facebook’s recent updates in greater detail and working on Facebook’s overall TRUSTe certification and privacy policy. We’re responding to user questions about the settings and changes through our dispute resolution process. We’re also proactively delivering consumer education. We’re gratified that the privacy community, press, and Facebook users are all telling Facebook what’s important to them and that Facebook is listening.

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