National Consumers League

Facebook privacy


By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
The Wall Street Journal, of late, has done a very admirable muckracking job looking at privacy policies of Facebook, Skype, Yahoo and other sites. Why are privacy policies important to consumers? Because marketers want information about consumers so they can try to sell us stuff and in the process they dig deep for our personal data. And so the Facebooks, Skypes, and Yahoos of the world offer us access to their many fantastic applications – and many are fantastic – but only if we share information about ourselves. The authors of a recent article in the Journal- Julia Angwin and Jeremy Singer-Vine, put it like this: “This appetite for personal data reflects a fundamental truth about Facebook, and by extension, the Internet economy as a whole: Facebook provides a free service that users pay for, in effect, by providing details about the lives, friendships, interests and activities.” And Facebook has 800-million-plus subscribers so that’s a lot of money. You have to ask yourself why Facebook so highly valued - if it goes public it may be valued at $100 billion. Access to Facebook is free for consumers so we pay with our private information which Facebook then sells to advertisers. The Journal also says that Facebook isn’t always enforcing its own rules on data privacy. Dozens of apps apparently allow advertisers that haven’t been approved by Facebook. Privacy proponents like Helen Nissenbaum, who wrote a book called “Privacy in Context,” are calling for digital “fences” around data usage and even the White House has called for consumers to be told how any data collected will be used. These are serious concerns for all of us who value our privacy and don’t want our personal data collected and sold. Hopefully this Journal series on privacy will get the ball rolling in that direction.