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FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.
Facebook has been in the press recently in terms of perceived privacy problems and apparent attempts by Facebook to try do better in terms of privacy protection. While Facebook may be trying to improve, various public interest groups do not believe that Facebook has done enough, as evidenced by a recent open letter by the groups to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The letter, sent on behalf of the ACLU Northern California, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, PrivacyActivism, Privacy Lives and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, while conciliatory in tone, demands certain improvements.
The letter begins by stating while the groups are "glad" that Facebook has "taken steps in the past weeks to address some of its outstanding privacy problems," they nevertheless "urge" Facebook "to continue to demonstrate [its] commitment to the principle of giving users control over how and with whom they share" by taking certain additional steps.
Specifically, the groups ask Facebook to: a) fix the "app gap" by enabling users to decide precisely which applications can access their personal information; b) make "instant personalization" opt-in by default; c) not retain data about specific visitors to third-party sites that incorporate "social plugins" or the "like" button unless the site visitors decide to interact with those tools; d) give users control over every piece of information they share through Facebook, specifically including their names, genders, profile pictures, and networks; e) safeguard users from other threats by using an HTTPS connection for all interactions by default; and f) provide users with simple tools for exporting their uploaded content and details of their social network such that users who are not content with Facebook's policies and desire to leave for another social network do not have to decide between protecting their privacy and staying connected with their friends.
The groups state that "'privacy' and 'social' go hand in hand." Namely, "users are much more social with people they know and choose and much less social when their actions and beliefs and connections are disclosed without their control or consent."
The groups express an interest in continuing the privacy dialogue with Facebook so that users can be both social and private on Facebook. Indeed, the open letter to Mr. Zuckerberg ends with the request to make the default on Facebook "social-and private."
It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. While the tone of the open letter is conciliatory, if Facebook does not provide further privacy protection comfort, the next step could be sharp accusations by the groups, and ultimately privacy litigation could follow.
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.