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Digital Life

What you need to know about Facebook's privacy changes

As part of a recent court order in Fraley et al. v. Facebook, the social media website unveiled some proposed changes in how it operates -- which may also change how you use it.

In addition to a small payout of approximately $15 each to the defined members of the suit, and part of the remaining $20 million dollars being paid to a number of privacy advocacy groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Facebook was also ordered (PDF) to reveal and clarify to its users the proposed changes to its Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

These changes were posted to Facebook on August 29 by chief privacy officer Erin Egan for community comment until Thursday -- but no one in the user base will be able to approve or reject these changes.

At the heart of the class action lawsuit is the idea that Facebook had improperly sold user names and profile pictures to its advertisers without the users' consent, and had also manipulated the News Feed to promote Sponsored Posts by implying that they had been recently "liked" by your friends -- when in actuality, you friend may have only "liked" the company's profile page ages ago.

As of today, the proposed changes reveal this connection quite implicitly, along with some other major details:

Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (PDF, with tracked changes)
  • By signing up to use Facebook, you've granted it unlimited permission to use your name, profile picture, and other "content and information" to help promote commercial advertisements without any further compensation to yourself.
  • This also applies to minors, as it is assumed that when a minor signs up for Facebook, their parent or guardian has approved their usage of Facebook.
  • If you live in a country which doesn't allow its citizens to use Facebook, you can't sign up for a profile at all.

Data Use Policy (PDF, with tracked changes)
  • The definition of "content and information" currently includes all the information you used to register for the site such as your name, age, and sometimes your mobile phone number. It now also includes any information you send to it in an email or message that's sent separately outside of Facebook's site.
  • Other information that Facebook can collect and use includes the web browser you're using, your computer's operating system, the type of mobile phone or tablet you have, and sometimes even your GPS location if you have that feature turned on while you're logged into the Facebook app.
  • When this information is sent to advertisers, they will strip it of personally identifying information, or they'll lump it in with other users' data, which is also devoid of this personal information.
  • Any information that you make visible to the general public can be used and/or sent to its content providers for them to use.
  • If you revoke access to your information from an app provided by a third party, that app maker may still continue to use that information. Facebook will not help you contact that app maker to revoke their access to your information; you have to contact them directly. And even if you do contact them directly, they still may not be able to delete that information, citing legal obligations.
  • Information that can't be sold to advertisers includes items you've revoked (or "opted-out") of granting them that permission. However, what they can sell to advertisers is information like how their ads have performed.
  • When it comes to showing ads to their users, they can use all of the information and content you've provided to Facebook starting from when you signed up for it.
What this means to the average Facebook user is that if you're the kind of person who doesn't want any of their information being used by and for Facebook's advertisers, there are a few things you can do:

Review your Privacy Settings by clicking on the image of the lock next to your name.

Make sure you click on each of the sections pictured below as well as the "See More Settings" link and review all of those settings to ensure that any information you want removed from public view is set to your comfort level.

From the Privacy Settings and Tools page, click on the Apps link and revoke access to all apps you're currently not actively using by clicking on the "X" next to each app, and then confirm your selection on the next screen.

On that next screen, you should also click on the stated Privacy Policy for that app to learn how to remove your information directly from the app maker.

Even though this may take some time and a whole lot of reading, it is currently the best way to ensure that the info that you provide to Facebook remains private and not in the hands of its advertisers.

Short of completely deleting your account, that is.

Photo: Brian Turner