By Jennifer LeClaire / Data Storage Today. Updated May 15, 2012.
All eyes are on all aspects of Facebook. As the social-media darling sets its sights on a historic initial public offering, though, it's doing a little housecleaning on the privacy front. And that housecleaning is making many angry.
Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, let the world know on Friday what her team was doing to help Facebook's users better understand how it uses their data. She penned a blog post that outlined how Facebook has enhanced transparency in its data use policy.
For all Facebook's good intentions, though, its latest update has many users up in arms once again. In fact, privacy advocates organized flash mob protests against Facebook on Tuesday at locations in New York and San Francisco. Not exactly the kind of publicity a pre-IPO Facebook wants or needs, though it did not seem to affect offering share prices.
Privacy Changes Detailed
"We're adding more examples and detailed explanations to help you understand our policies. For example, we include additional tips, marked with a light bulb so you can find them easily. We've added new links to our Help Center," Egan wrote.
Facebook also created a new section explaining how it uses "cookies" and similar technologies and updated the corresponding explanations about cookies in its Help Center. Facebook went on to provide more information about how it uses data to operate the social network, to advertise, and to promote safety and security for its users.
Facebook also launched several new features in its Data Use Policy since its last update, including Activity Log. Egan described Activity Log as a new privacy tool that lets you see in one place the information you've posted to Facebook. From Activity Log, for example, you can control who can see each piece of information and decide whether it appears on your timeline.
"We also updated our policy to reflect our launch of timeline and to provide information on cover photos and other Facebook features that work with timeline," Egan wrote. "Finally, we've made a number of organizational changes to make things easier to find, as well as some administrative updates."
Hinting at Off-Facebook Actions
"While Facebook did not announce further details about this 'off-Facebook' advertising unit or network, the social networking company is hinting that a Google AdWords or AdSense type product is in the works," Wengroff said.
So just how and where would Facebook collect data about users' third-party Web site visits? Wengroff points to three areas: by measuring the clicks and page jumps when users click on links in News Feed and Wall posts; by using cookies and pixels to collect such Web-surfing data if a user is logged in to Facebook but also browsing the Internet in another browser tab or window; and through social plugins, like 'Sign in with Facebook,' Comments, and the Like button, that are embedded in companies' Web sites.
"There is an emerging category of developers, known as social infrastructure providers, like Gigya, that provide this functionality for companies," Wengroff said. "In this way, the Facebook experience is carried out outside of Facebook, but all data is collected by Facebook."