Facebook Tries to Navigate the Privacy Storm

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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