Watchdog Groups Demand Facebook Privacy Changes

Despite Facebook's seemingly gallant effort to address the groundswell of discontent around its privacy policies, a coalition of privacy watchdog organizations are weighing in on what steps the social networking giant needs to take next.

Altogether, 10 privacy rights groups signed a letter requesting that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg implement changes that would give users more finite control of their information and how it's shared across the Internet. Participating privacy groups included the ACLU of Northern California, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, Privacy Lives, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Privacy Activism and the Center for Digital Democracy.

"Facebook continues to push its users into more and more public sharing -- sharing that it's not at all clear members want or fully understand," said Kevin Bankston, EFF senior staff attorney in a statement. "We're calling on Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg to respect their members and give them their information and the tools they need for true control."

"Privacy" and "social" go hand in hand: Users are much more social with people they know and choose, and much less social when their actions and beliefs and connections are disclosed without their control or consent," according to the collaborative letter. "We are committed to continuing this dialogue with you and ensuring that users can continue to be both social and private on Facebook. We hope you continue to engage with us and your users to make Facebook a trusted place for both public and private sharing. Please make the default "social -- and private."

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The letter, which possibly represents a tall order for the social networking giant, requests that Facebook make six major changes, including filling the "app gap" by giving users the ability to decide exactly which applications can access their personal information -- and which ones can't.

The letter also asks that Facebook make "instant personalization" opt-in by default, as well as provide users with control over every piece of information they can share on Facebook, including name, gender, profile picture and networks, and not retain data about specific visitors to third party sites that incorporate "social plugins" or the "like" button unless the site visitor chooses to interact with those tools.

In addition, the letter asks that Facebook protect users from security threats by using a default HTTPS connection for all interactions, and provide simple tools for exporting their uploaded content and their profile information if users want to find an alternative social networking site without losing their contacts.

Facebook battled a firestorm of criticism from its privacy rights organizations, Congressional leaders and users for implementing sweeping changes to its privacy policies that included the launch of its "instant personalization" feature, which linked users' "Interests and Activities" to third-party applications and Web sites. Prior to that, Facebook made privacy changes that enabled large swaths of users' profile data to be exposed on public search engines by default. In response to the public outcry, Facebook revised some of its settings in May, which shield users' data from automatic exposure while simplifying and streamlining its privacy policies. However, critics asserted that while a positive start, the revisions didn’t go far enough to fully protect users and contained too many privacy loopholes.