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Summary:

Facebook this week finally changed the way it handles privacy. The question now is whether the latest changes, and Zuckerberg’s mea culpa piece in the Washington Post, will turn the growing tide of criticism that the company has been facing.

For readers of GigaOM, it’s not news that Facebook finally bowed to the onslaught of criticism unleashed after its recent f8 conference and changed the way the social network handles privacy this week. But the key question for the company is whether the latest changes, and Zuckerberg’s mea culpa piece in the Washington Post, will turn the growing tide of criticism that the company has been facing as a result of some of its privacy moves. The early indications are that it will likely not, at least not when it comes to the privacy groups and consumer advocates that have become its most vocal critics.

As I explain in my weekly column at GigaOM Pro, several consumer groups that had complained to the Federal Trade Commission about the company’s moves said they’re still hoping the regulator investigates the social network, something the FTC says it’s considering. Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy said the group wants “legislation to address this massive and stealth data collection that has emerged.” A spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that while some of the changes were positive, the group still has “some fundamental concerns about the amount of user information being shared with third-party Facebook applications and websites.” And the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said on Friday that he’s sent a letter to the company asking it to explain its privacy practices and is considering holding hearings.

Although some high-profile users have quit the social network in protest over its handling of privacy, in the long run the company has far more to worry about from the FTC and the House Judiciary Committee — not to mention federal privacy legislation that’s already in the works. That prospect isn’t just a nightmare for Facebook; it could become an issue for any other web service or social network that handles user data. In this case, a rising tide may not lifts all boats so much as swamp all boats.

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  1. Jack B. Nimble Monday, May 31, 2010

    The bigger problem is that I’m bored with Facebook, as are others I speak with.

    I forsee increasingly lower intensity of usage in the next few years, although I also think people will keep their pages. Facebook as we know it today is a bubble, albeit a better-run one than Friendster or MySpace.

  2. Sanjay Maharaj Monday, May 31, 2010

    Why create the situation in the first place when you know that it will stir controvesy which will be a distraction and a PR diaster. It does not make sense and good corporate goverance.
    Facebook is lucky that users always give it the benefit of doubt but Facebook has to respect it’s user base and not take them for granted

  3. Alex Christoforou Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    Great piece. An investigation will surely cripple FB and its constant (some would say sneaky) attempts at diminishing privacy mechanisms for its users. I am totally against gov’t intervention in business but in some cases it is crucial, and I think this is one of them.

    FB continues to mislead users and gives away too much user info to 3rd party services and marketing firms. The site as a whole has just become to risky to participate in. And I know that 80% of people don’t care, but the 20% that do need to make sure that all users are given a clear and transparent picture of the risks and rewards involved in using a service like FB, so that proper decisions can be taken by all participants.

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