What next for social networking security after Facebook's worst week?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

Workplace debates over the use Facebook are not going to go away due to the two sides respectively defending the modern networking tactic and the lack of productivity that its use causes.

Workplace debates over the use Facebook are not going to go away due to the two sides respectively defending the modern networking tactic and the lack of productivity that its use causes.

However the popular social networking site found itself at the heart of a new scandal this week with regards to the privacy rights of its users.

A change in the terms of use went from the 175 million users having all of their details and photos removed if they chose to deactivate their account, to the owners introducing a new policy that permitted it to retain a copy of all messages, actions and updates online, even after people quit the site.

The change, ushered in quietly via a blog by CEO Mark Zuckerberg on the 4th February, led to vast press coverage globally as users and privacy campaigners began to lobby the site to revert to its previous terms of service.

Zuckerberg initially defended the right to change the terms, claiming that ‘the change will allow people to have greater control over their own information' and that when a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a licence to use that information in order that it can show it to the other people.

However, just a day later the CEO announced that Facebook was reverting to its previous terms after it received a lot of questions and comments about the changes and what they mean for people and their information'.

Although Zuckerberg insisted that the change back was a purely temporary measure, the damage caused by this self-inflicted glitch has been one that the website will struggle to shake off for some time.

Roderick Ordoñez, technical communications spokesperson at Trend Micro, claimed that people should be careful of what they post or put on the web as you never know who will use that data and for what purpose, regardless of where you put it or what service you choose to use.

He said: “Actually, putting anything on the web is a sure-fire way to make information available for an indefinite period of time. Sites like Facebook, however, do allow the user to control how much information is available to the general public, though it is assumed that the information is deleted once a user opts out of the service.

“When a terms of service declares that a certain establishment has full rights to your information (or content in this case) during and even after you've long stopped using the service, privacy concerns are raised. Most specifically: how is your data going to be used?”

The backlash by users led to the creation of a group named the ‘Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities'. Although the group's administrators include both Zuckerberg and spokesperson Barry Schnitt, with almost 80,000 members already commenting, a shortlist of five terms has been drawn from the comments left. These are:

1. You own your information. Facebook does not. This includes your photos and all other content.

2. Facebook doesn't claim rights to any of your photos or other content. We need a licence in order to help you share information with your friends, but we don't claim to own your information.

3. We won't use the information you share on Facebook for anything you haven't asked us to. We realise our current terms are too broad here and they make it seem like we might share information in ways you don't want, but this isn't what we're doing.

4. We will not share your information with anyone if you deactivate your account. If you've already sent a friend a message, they'll still have that message. However, when you deactivate your account, all of your photos and other content are removed.

5. We apologise for the confusion around these issues. We never intended to claim ownership over people's content even though that's what it seems like to many people. This was a mistake and we apologise for the confusion.

With Facebook itself taking part in such an exercise, it does show some level of admission that it did not make the best decision with this change and is prepared to listen to user feedback to ensure that the next move is the right one for every user.

In a statement on the group, Schnitt said: “A group of people at the company, including Mark and members of the policy, legal and communications teams spent today discussing the next version of the terms. I'd like to tell you that we have it all figured out but we don't just yet. However, we have developed some basic concepts we'd like to run by all of you. As you'll see, we're departing from the traditional components of a terms of service and we're also expanding the scope of this project.”

He goes on to claim that users ‘should be involved in developing the new documents and in subsequent updates'. Regarding the privacy policy, Schnitt said: “We haven't changed this document in a while and it wasn't really part of the recent controversy. However, in looking at it with fresh eyes, we decided it should also be made more clear, less formal, and include input from users.”

This final admission that it made a mistake is the first move forward, however the concept of personal data privacy in an online environment has now been taken to a whole new stage, and it is up to other social networking sites, forums and discussion boards to prove their worth and security next.

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