There is nothing really new about Facebook’s “new privacy model”

Facebook has changed its privacy settings on May 27th, 2010. One change is that users can now set with one click in the privacy options if their data is available to everyone, friends of friends, friends only, or if they want to use the standard settings. The standard settings are those that are automatically activated if a user registers a new profile. The standard settings of what is visible to everyone has not much changed: information such as status, photos, postings, bio, favourite quotes, family, relationship status, friends-list, schools, universities, work place, interests, relationship interest are automatically visible to everyone. In contrast to the old settings, also the personal website, city, and hometown are now visible to everyone as standard setting. The friends-list is still automatically visible to everyone, but Facebook now allows users to change this setting so that it is visible only to friends or friends of friends.

On the Facebook blog, Mark Zuckerberg celebrates these changes: “We’ve focused on three things: a single control for your content, more powerful controls for your basic information and an easy control to turn off all applications. [...] Finally and perhaps most importantly, I am pleased to say that with these changes the overhaul of Facebook’s privacy model is complete. If you find these changes helpful, then we plan to keep this privacy framework for a long time. That means you won’t need to worry about changes. (Believe me, we’re probably happier about this than you are.)“.

There are no changes to targeted advertising, which shows that Facebook thinks that this form of advertising does not pose privacy threats. The privacy policy for example still allows Facebook to make use of data on users’ behaviour on other sites: “We may receive information about whether or not you’ve seen or interacted with certain ads on other sites in order to measure the effectiveness of those ads“ (Facebook Privacy Policy, April 22, 2010).

Targeted advertising is automatically enabled and cannot be disabled, there is neither an opt-in- nor an opt-out-option: “We allow advertisers to choose the characteristics of users who will see their advertisements and we may use any of the non-personally identifiable attributes we have collected (including information you may have decided not to show to other users, such as your birth year or other sensitive personal information or preferences) to select the appropriate audience for those advertisements. For example, we might use your interest in soccer to show you ads for soccer equipment, but we do not tell the soccer equipment company who you are. You can see the criteria advertisers may select by visiting our advertising page. Even though we do not share your information with advertisers without your consent, when you click on or otherwise interact with an advertisement there is a possibility that the advertiser may place a cookie in your browser and note that it meets the criteria they selected“ (Facebook Privacy Policy, April 22, 2010)..

Hidden inside of the privacy terms is a link to a page, where users can opt-out of the placement of cookies by 48 advertising companies. This link is hard to find and is not part of the general Facebook settings. “Advertisements. Sometimes the advertisers who present ads on Facebook use technological methods to measure the effectiveness of their ads and to personalize advertising content. You may opt-out of the placement of cookies by many of these advertisers here. You may also use your browser cookie settings to limit or prevent the placement of cookies by advertising network“.

Targeted Internet advertising is problematic due to several reasons:
* Users are not allowed to decide if they want to have advertising/targeted advertising on Internet platforms. This shows a democratic deficit – platform owners decide, users have to agree if they want to use the sites.
* Targeted advertising advances the total commodification and commercialization of the Internet.
* Targeted advertising tries to manipulate tastes, needs, and consumption behaviour.
* Targeted advertising just like all forms of advertising supports market concentration because the largest corporations are able to purchase much more ads than smaller ones and non-commercial and non-profit organizations.
* On commercial web 2.0 platforms, Internet prosumers are sold as commodity to advertising firms and are thereby economically exploited.
* It is not transparent to the user, which firms are allowed to present targeted advertising.
* Targeted advertising is legitimated by long and complex terms that are cumbersome to read and contain hidden options that are not shown in the general settings in order to enforce capital accumulation by making it more unlikely that users opt-out of certain advertising options (example: opt-out from the setting of cookies by advertising firms on Facebook).

Concerning economic surveillance and the privacy threats posed by it, nothing has changed on Facebook. So there are no reasons to celebrate Facebook’s ”new privacy model“. If, as Zuckerberg says, Facebook’s “privacy model is” now “complete” and should now be kept “for a long time”, then this means that the commodification and exploitation of Facebook users, the total commodification and commercialization of Facebook, economic surveillance, and the lack of democratic control of advertising by users (i.e. the existence of a Facebook advertising dictatorship) are here to stay.

The only viable alternatives to the Facebook privacy and surveillance threat are the creation of non-commercial social networking sites and legal frameworks that require commercial web 2.0 operators to implement opt-in advertising/targeted advertising solutions.

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