At the request of the Belgian government’s Privacy Commission, a privacy group has spent the last few months analysing Facebook’s latest data policy. Turns out Facebook are breaking European laws.
At least that’s according to the groups findings. Unsurprisingly, Facebook’s legal team disagree. For privacy activists and Facebook, the relationship seems to be an arduous struggle. For both sides.
In January 2015 Facebook updated its privacy terms once again. Although many of the changes boiled down to rewording and clarifying, it has led to plenty of users and data privacy groups revisiting the age old battle of privacy vs. social media.
And in Europe at least, it seems Facebook may be in a spot of bother.
Facebook gather information about users in a variety of ways.
Skip the italics if you don’t really care how…
In the beginning they used information about you and your activity inside Facebook. I.e. your profile information and your Likes and Clicks.
Then in 2012 the FBX program allowed Facebook to communicate with third party companies that track you, regarding your activity on other websites outside of Facebook in order to display what they call “retargeted ads” at a user once they navigated back to Facebook.
Then Facebook announced it may track you on external websites that contain the Facebook Like/Share buttons to target adverts towards you, despite claiming for many years that they wouldn’t do this.
Then they announced that information about you may get passed to websites in the Facebook Atlas program and other Facebook owned websites. The Atlas platform can track you across different websites and mobile apps by pairing information it learns about you, such as your phone’s unique ID.
And that’s just a brief overview.
Basically, there is no shortage of ways Facebook can see what you’re up to online.
And therein lays the problem for Facebook. Because there is so much to know about how Facebook works and how they accumulate data about you, learning how to minimise what Facebook learn about you is no easy task. There are a number of things you can do, but they’re not in the same place. For example your “ad preferences” are not in the same place where you go to opt-out of the various retargeting programs that 3rd party companies offer. Also, it’s different for mobile and desktop users, and for many all of these settings are not particularly intuitive.
The privacy group reported that Facebook “places too much burden on its users” by requiring them to understand where they can find a number of privacy settings and understand what it all means. That’s no easy feat.
The report also claims that despite a lot of rewording in January 2015, the Facebook data policy is still ambiguous in many regards. The report also pointed to the fact that the Facebook mobile app was able to track a user’s location with no way to turn it off (unless you turned it off on the phone OS.) and there is also no way to stop a user’s information being used in “sponsored stories”.
The future is uncertain in this regard. With Facebook’s ability to track users outside of Facebook increasing dramatically on several fronts, users are feeling increasingly uneasy, and with some opt-outs simply unavailable, the only choice for the privacy conscious is to delete their Facebook account.
No charges have been filed by the Belgian Privacy Commission at the time of writing, and investigations continue.