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Christina Gagnier

Christina Gagnier

Posted: April 21, 2010 12:20 PM

Facebook: Keeping Your Friends Close and Strangers Even Closer

What's Your Reaction:

Attention 400 million plus users who are on Facebook: as of today, Facebook has once again changed your expectations, even if limited, of privacy on its website.

Well-explained in a commentary by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Kurt Opsahl, "Certain parts of users' profiles, 'including your current city, hometown, education and work, and likes and interests' will now be transformed into 'connections,' meaning that they will be shared publicly. If you don't want these parts of your profile to be made public, your only option is to delete them."

Did you catch that? Not too many people did, and what it stands for is important.

These changes are significant because the area of privacy law is certainly an ambiguous space. When many of the legal rules around privacy are predicated on societal norms, and people accept these changes of what information they are sharing with the masses, those who do wish to protect their privacy can be adversely affected. It could shift how legally the reasonable expectation of privacy is analyzed.

Of great concern is that most users have no idea this change occurred. When Facebook profiles went to a public default several months ago, people were somewhat aware that such a change occurred. Again, Facebook did not undertake comprehensive measures by any means to warn of that change. It was a simple click-through. The lack of warning about Facebook's latest change demonstrates a dangerous evolution in how they treat their users and their data.

From the days of their initial launch, as a network just for college students to connect with other college students, Facebook has been the master of illusion, making users feel like they maintain some reasonable expectation of privacy. Over the last few years, Facebook has slowly gone from being a network of your "friends" to a public domain.

What's next? There is no protection for communications that happen over third-party platforms and communications platforms online. Facebook is emerging as not only a violator of privacy through its own policy choices, but inadvertently through the utilities that it provides for users to trip up their privacy rights.

Why should you care? The word "privacy" is thrown around too carelessly these days as if it was a mere novelty. The word "privacy" is representative of rights that individuals retain against the government and against others violating the intimate zones of their lives. We should not have privacy conversations casually. This issue is not about the online world knowing I like the show Mad Men from my Facebook profile; it is about preserving a right that in the civil sense has been continually chipped away at.

Privacy is a fundamental right. Let's demand it be treated like one. If you claim privacy is dead, I will be there with the defibrillator.

 

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