Home > News > Facebook fixes privacy policy pertaining to teen users, but does anyone actually read and understand these policies?

Facebook fixes privacy policy pertaining to teen users, but does anyone actually read and understand these policies?

Amid complaints by concerned users, Facebook has removed a potentially confusing portion of its privacy policy that assumes minors are aware of their content and profiles being used by the social network for ad-targeting purposes.

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Social networking comes with its benefits and disadvantages. While the likes of Facebook can help keep friends connected, sharing information online would also come with potential privacy issues. This can be especially troubling if it concerns young people who may not necessarily be aware of the implications of online stalking, identity theft and social engineering attacks.

But malicious intent aside, there is also one threat in social networking that might be considered a grey area in terms of privacy intrusion: targeted advertising. Facebook itself, as a platform, is built on providing free access to its users in exchange for the ability to track preferences, sentiment, connections and recommendations. The idea is to build a profile for each and every user with the intent to monetize these through targeted advertising.

This would be evident in how targeted recommendations come with a list of friends who also “like” a brand or product page, and how ads can be targeted based on the information one posts online. Facebook’s data use policy page explains how one’s information is used and what kind of privacy protections and safeguards one is entitled to (such as personally-identifiable information not being shared with advertisers).

However, one point of contention is the wording used when referring to minors. In a recent update, Facebook worded the policy seemingly with the assumption that minors (Facebook users from 13 to 18) have discussed the privacy policies with their parents and that the latter are in agreement with these policies. This comes just a few weeks after Facebook started allowing minors to share public posts and updates, something that also came with concerns among privacy advocates.

In a blog post on Facebook Notes, the social network clarified that the wording used was supposed to “facilitate conversations between teens and their parents about using Facebook.” The post clarified that it required the minor users to have sought consent from an adult. “Specifically, we added a sentence that said if you are under the age of eighteen you have talked to your parent or guardian and they also agree to some of our terms,” the statement said.

However, this particular line had become controversial because of its quick assumption that a minor would actually discuss the privacy terms with a parent, and that the latter would be assumed to have given approval. In short, that particular sentence was thought to be giving blanket authority to Facebook to use minors’ data in targeting campaigns for their clients.

In 2012, Facebook entered into an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission to monitor its privacy policy, and the FTC does actively monitor any material changes to the privacy policies of companies under a privacy order from the Commission. A representative shared with the Wall Street Journal that the company is confident its latest changes were in compliance with FTC requirements.

“We have ongoing conversations with the FTC about order compliance and changes we’re making to our service that affect people’s privacy.”

However, due to pressure from users, Facebook has decided to remove the controversial lines.

In a recent survey by security firm ESET, younger Facebook users are found to be more concerned about their personal information, although that particular study took into account users from 18 years old and above. The latest concern about the social network involves users below 18 (Facebook’s minimum age is 13).

The bigger concern with privacy policies, of course, is whether users actually take the time to read and understand the implications. It also goes without saying that updates set as “public” — status updates, photos and shares — would be visible in Timeline searches. As privacy advocates would often say, if you’re not paying for it, then you’re the product.

Source: Wall Street Journal

J. Angelo Racoma
J. Angelo Racoma has written extensively about mobile, social media, enterprise apps and startups. Angelo develops business case studies for Microsoft enterprise applications and services. He is also co-founder at WorkSmartr, a small outsourcing team.

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