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Tech-Friendly: Facebook being sued for selling private information to third parties

January 8, 2014

By Paul Gorski

The social media service Facebook is being sued for allegedly selling information from private conversations to third parties.

Two Facebook users are accusing Facebook of violating federal and state (California) laws by “mining” links and other information from messages marked “private” and selling that information to advertisers. Read the lawsuit filing here: http://digitalcommons.law.scu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1611&context=historical, and read more news coverage here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/03/facebook-lawsuit-private-messages_n_4536154.html.

I remind readers these are only allegations and they have not been proven. However, Facebook has long been the target of privacy advocates.

A University of Pittsburgh study found that Facebook’s “Mutual Friends” feature creates a variety of “security risks and concerns” allowing hackers to access supposedly private information. Essentially, the study found that it wasn’t that difficult to identify your mutual friends, despite enabling FB security to prevent access to that data. Read more about that study at: http://allfacebook.com/mutual-friends-study_b118610.

In 2012, Facebook began replacing the e-mail addresses users listed in their profiles with their FB e-mail addresses, posting those addresses publicly, increasing the possibility of users getting spam. Although users can change the e-mail address displayed in their profiles back to their preferred e-mail, spammers and cyber criminals can still easily determine your FB e-mail address from your profile name, increasing the possibility of spam or e-mail fraud. More about this change at: http://www.eweek.com/c/a/Security/Facebook-Email-Change-Raises-Security-Concerns-436367/.

Psychologists at the University of Vienna found in a small study of FB quitters that more than half of those giving up Facebook gave up the social media giant because of privacy concerns (real or imagined.) A CNBC article on the study is at: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101043626.

Facebook does modify its privacy controls and rules periodically. Sometimes these changes are welcomed, and sometimes they are challenged. Back in 2009, user groups and the federal government filed complaints against Facebook for updating its licensing agreement to read that FB has an “irrevocable, perpetual” license to use your “name, likeness, and image.” The new license was interpreted as allowing Facebook to use your content, even after your canceled your account.

My personal recommendation is that you should not share anything on Facebook that you wouldn’t share with a stranger on the street. That way, you are in control of your own privacy, and you don’t have to rely on lawsuits or technological controls to maintain your privacy.

Facebook’s current “Data Use Policy” (privacy policy) is listed at: https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/.

Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple Iie.

From the Jan. 8-14, 2014, issue

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