Is Privacy on Facebook So Last Decade?

Jan 12, 2010
Nicole A. Ozer

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

Over the past several years, there have been two reliable things about Facebook: it has often stated that privacy was important to the company – two years ago, privacy was "the vector around which Facebook operates" – and its actions have often contradicted that.

As we start a new year, it doesn't look like much has changed.

A month ago, when Facebook announced a major privacy overhaul, users were told that the changes were being made to give them "even greater control over the information [they] share" (which might be more information than they know) and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that Facebook's "work to improve privacy continues today."

However, in a January 8 interview, Zuckerberg responded to questions about privacy and Facebook's recent changes by discussing a new "social norm" that involves "sharing more information and different kinds, [] more openly and with more people."

These comments triggered some controversy, with one web site claiming that Zuckerberg said that "the age of privacy is over." Facebook's spokesman Andrew Noyes wrote to us that Zuckerberg's remarks have been "mischaracterized," and that Zuckerberg simply "observed that social norms on the Internet are changing and that Facebook is responding – including by offering people more and better tools to decide what to share and with whom. […] Rather than declaring the end of privacy, Mark was highlighting the growing power of user control."

But Zuckerberg's own words confirm what we have been saying about the privacy overhaul for the last month – that it was about pushing users to make more information public, to reflect the "social norms" as Facebook sees them or even as it wants them to be. As Zuckerberg himself said "[W]e decided these would be the new social norms and we just went for it." As we noted at the time, Facebook's recent "privacy changes" actually eliminated some user controls, including the ability to not share some very sensitive data including friend lists and fan pages. Facebook also changed the default privacy settings to expose far more information – including gender preference – to the entire Internet.

User privacy isn't just about "not sharing," it is about giving you the control to choose to share what you want with whom you want. It lets you decide that your college crew can see your pictures from last Saturday night but your boss can't. It determines whether or not you can prevent your personal information from being siphoned into detailed marketing profiles that could end up being used in ways you never imagined. It lets activist groups use Facebook as an organizing tool without endangering themselves by doing so. And the stronger these privacy controls are, the more Facebook can serve as a hub for sharing important, intimate details of our lives, allowing us to go beyond the surface and truly connect.

At one point, Facebook got that. It's our job to remind them of that fact.

So please join us and tell Facebook that you want control of your personal information. Sign our petition to demand stronger privacy settings on Facebook. And help us continue to show Facebook and other companies that privacy is not passe by learning more and joining us in the fight for our dotRights at