Privacy group urges FTC to stop Facebook from sharing 'Everything'

When Facebook implemented changes to its privacy system last week, users were invited by way of a "wizard"-like control panel to change their current privacy settings. But the only option they were given besides leaving privacy where it was to begin with, was an option called "Everyone." And what many users may not have been aware of, was that the "Everyone" setting effectively turned privacy controls off.

"Facebook's 'Everyone' setting overrides the user's choice to limit access by third-party applications and Web sites," reads the text of a complaint today filed before the US Federal Trade Commission (PDF available here) by the Electronic Privacy Information Center -- the same group that filed a complaint against Google's cloud-based privacy policy last March. EPIC is urging the FTC to charge Facebook with unfair and deceptive trade practices -- perhaps emboldened by the FTC's unexpectedly bold charges against Intel, filed yesterday.

EPIC also points out serious changes to Facebook privacy policy that effectively grant the developers of Facebook-supporting applications access to all personally identifiable data, by way of Facebook's API. Conceivably, developers might even be able to determine specifically which data Facebook users have opted for the service to keep secret from other Facebook users.

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"Facebook's changes to users' privacy settings and associated policies in fact categorize as 'publicly available information' users' names, profile photos, lists of friends, pages they are fans of, gender, geographic regions, and networks to which they belong," reads EPIC's complaint. "Those categories of user data are no longer subject to users' privacy settings."

A vast category of data is opened up to developers through the API, and Facebook's marketing to users says that they have control over just how much information that is.

Sure, if you don't mind controlling each and every application individually, as EPIC explains: "Users can block individual third-party applications from obtaining personal information by searching the Application Directory, visiting the application's 'about' page, clicking a small link on that page, and then confirming their decision. A user would have to perform these steps for each of more than 350,000 applications in order to block all of them."

But even then, there's a way for developers to get around that problem: pay more. As EPIC explains, "With the Preferred Developer Program, Facebook will give third-party developers access to a user's primary e-mail address, personal information provided by the user to Facebook to subscribe to the Facebook service, but not necessarily available to the public or to developers."

Although Facebook said on December 9 that it would be listening to, and responding to, users' own responses to the new privacy settings, Facebook has yet to issue a public statement since that time. However, Facebook's own Facebook page, as of early Thursday evening, contained more than 1,500 responses from users, a great many of which are not printable here.

Here is one response that can be printed: "I'm deleting my profile this Friday, Dec. 18th due to Facebook's new invasion of privacy settings that took place on Dec. 10th. Facebook has had one week, and tens of thousands of complaints to resolve this, yet has failed to do so ultimately in their greed to sale everyone's information to the highest bidder. Therefore I am deleting my account."

Another reads, in part, "That is the most ignorant thing! We want our friends on our profile, [you ****], and not exposed for the whole world to see!...We should have control on what we want people to see and not to see, not only for our own safety but our children...Facebook sold us out."

And another: "You can't force people to have their friend list visible to all friends. Just imagine the mother who wants to protect her children from some weird contacts. This is an open door for stalkers, serial killers, pedophiles, an agency of a repressive government, telemarketers, or similar... Facebook, please let people control their privacy settings!"

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