An Action Item for those Concerned with Privacy on Facebook

By Peter Bernstein December 04, 2012

For those of you who follow me, you know about my obsession about creeping “big brotherism.” Whether it be OnStar’s fortunately aborted desire to snoop on us even if we decided to not use the service to legislation about allowing U.S. federal agencies to obtain our surfing records from social media companies without a warrant to all sorts of other uses of what should be considered customer proprietary information (CPNI), this is an area where our liberty truly is under assault. 

The fact of the matter is that  social media companies need to “monetize” the value of our use . Along with advertising, the other way to cash in is in “sharing” the info they capture about us with third-parties. This then goes into the “big data”/business intelligence mill (remember if it is on the Web it will never die so there is lots to collate) and enables advertisers to better “target” us. Social companies get paid for the data, and advertisers get to practice optimized marketing leveraging their access to an enriched view of who we are, what we do and what makes us tick when we are transactional. 

Image via Shutterstock

The above is prelude to what, in my view, is a public service announcement. It turns out, at least when it comes to Facebook, we actually have a say, if not a true voice, in whether they adopt their new privacy terms and conditions. With a tip of the hat and a thank you, I would like to acknowledge the fine work done by Sarah Downey that I have seen on

Ms. Downy a few days ago posted in a related article on, “The five biggest changes to Facebook’s privacy policies.” I list them below in summary. 

  1. Facebook is sharing your personal information with a lot more people
  2. You’ll no longer be able to limit who can send you private messages
  3. Facebook wants to launch an online advertising network
  4. Facebook wants to get rid of your ability to vote on their policy changes
  5. More clarification from Facebook that almost everything you post is visible, even if you limit its visibility later

You can read the posting for the descriptions. What you need to know, as the titles suggest, is that none of the above are user-friendly. They are all about the money. But, I digress.

Vote early if not often

What really caught my attention was Ms. Downey’s revelation that all of us Facebook users have a wonderful opportunity to post our objections to the above. And, while the author notes that this is a non-binding vote, unless 30 percent of Facebook’s one billion users participate, one can only hope that if voting goes viral that the big five will not go into effect.

Again as Ms. Downey points out, actually registering your vote is not a simple process. Obviously, it is not in Facebook’s interest to make this easy, and no surprise that they are not advertising the fact that we even have a say in all of this. However, if you follow the steps outlined, as I did, and pass this along one never knows. As someone who believes in the wisdom of the masses, I unfortunately doubt that 300 million people are likely to vote. That said, what would be interesting would be to see if the vote against the changes to the privacy terms and conditions actually got traction. It may be way too late to get the needed votes, but at least Facebook at a minimum would have to fess up to the fact that there is a vote. Whether they then launched a counter-offensive, and what the nature of it might, be would be fascinating.

I would urge you to vote early and often, but you can’t do either. Nevertheless, at least you can feel good about expressing yourself, although once you do, be aware that the vote itself will be captured in a profile about you, and how knows what that might mean. Thank you Sarah Downey for the heads up.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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