By IKU KAWACHI
It doesn’t even need an introduction, really.
Facebook is the largest, most visible and farthest-reaching social networking service (SNS) on the planet, with a reported 500 million active users and an annual revenue of $800 million. Despite already being in its seventh year, however — virtually an eternity on the Web — it still manages to garner headlines for one reason or another, whether it be facing the possibility of being banned in Turkey, a country with 22.5 million users of the service; becoming the focus of a much-discussed movie, one that has received rave reviews; or being targeted in campaigns against cyber-bullying.
Perhaps the most dramatic change came in February 2009, when Facebook announced sweeping changes to its Terms of Service that would allow it to use, modify, or sub-license any content a user had ever uploaded to Facebook. It added clauses that granted it additional such permissions, and omitted others that had protected the users’ rights to their content. The new policy was met with so much backlash, both from the mainstream media and its user audience, that it quickly reverted to its original policy and launched a forum that allowed users to openly discuss the “Facebook Principles” and “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” documents over a 30-day period. Additional changes came this May, when Facebook made its privacy settings much more customizable and easier to navigate under strong public pressure.
Now founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has unveiled the latest privacy changes to the service: the launch of “Download Your Information”, a tool to download any and all of one’s personal data including Wall posts, status updates, and photos with one click; the introduction of a “Dashboard” to monitor how third-party applications on Facebook are using one’s information; and a complete overhaul of the “Groups” feature that will now allow users to share things with “small groups of friends … in a private space.”
Facebook responded swiftly, saying that “press concerns have exaggerated the implications of sharing a UID” but nevertheless vowing to immediately explore possible solutions, including encrypting information passed through application URLs. While Facebook’s prompt, diligent approach in responding to privacy issues such as this one is to be praised, the fact that our own personal information is floating around in cyberspace — at risk of being traded from service to service or application to application at any given time— should be a source of concern for anyone.