International banks hatch scheme to manage private web data

With Facebook and other websites under global pressure for the way they care for user data, a new idea is developing to allow consumers to take back control of their own data – lending it out to organizations only as they choose.

The idea – outlined in an article by Bloomberg Businessweek – offers an interesting approach with just one catch: It’s the brainchild of SWIFT – the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, a consortium of banks.

If they ever get it off the ground, they intend to charge a fee for the service.

9 ways Facebook has disregarded your privacy

How hath Facebook disregarded the privacy of its users over the years? Let us count the ways:

  • By allowing photos and other content to remain accessible even after users deactivated or deleted their accounts, according to a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.
  • By changing its website so information that users may have designated as private – such as their Friends List – was made public. This was done without advance warning or without seeking users’ permission, according to the FTC settlement.
  • By leading users to believe that third-party apps would only access information necessary to function – while actually allowing the apps to access nearly all of users’ personal data, even if it wasn’t necessary for the app to do its job, according to the FTC.
  • By telling users they could limit the audience for certain information (i.e. “Friends Only”) – but allowing that information to be shared with 3rd-party apps those friends were using, according to the FTC.
  • By claiming – but not actually bothering – to comply with the U.S.- European Union Safe Harbor Framework that offers protection in data transfer between and within the continents, the FTC settlement states.
  • By sharing users’ personal information with advertisers after promising not to share personal information with advertisers, the FTC contends.

The FTC didn’t accuse Facebook of intentionally breaking the law, according to a New York Times article on the settlement. But it did mandate that Facebook undergo a 3rd-party privacy audit every other year for the next 20 years, and said future violations would incur a $16,000-a-day penalty for each occurrence.

Meanwhile, in actions outside the scope of the FTC settlement, here are other ways Facebook seems to have demonstrated that privacy of its users is of minimal concern:

  • By placing users’ pictures in ads for products and services they have “liked” as an unauthorized and unpaid endorsement. Here’s an example, quoted from a  report buy PaidContent in a case that was being litigated in 2011: A Facebook user named Angel says she hit the “Like” button to get a free trial of Rosetta Stone’s translation software. Soon after, a sponsored story appeared in her friends’ news feeds showing her picture near an ad and the headline “Angel Frolicker likes Rosetta Stone.” Other plaintiffs who hit “Like” to view a photo or enter a promotion say their “Likes” were similarly hijacked.
  • By introducing as “Tag suggestions” feature that uses facial recognition technology to compare newly uploaded photographs to those of the uploader’s Facebook friends – and then prompts photo tags. Per Facebook’s habit, it was introduced on an opt-out basis – meaning users first had to figure out whether their privacy intentions had been circumvented, and then change their protective settings. European Union data-protection regulators said they would investigate whether the feature violated privacy rules, according to German news source Deutsche-Welle.
  • By placing so-called super-cookies on users’ computer that can track online activity even when you’re logged out of Facebook, according to ABC News. Facebook – being sued about the matter – conceded that some of its cookies might have such a capability but maintains that it does not track user activity outside of the Facebook environment.

For a more exhaustive overview of complaints and issues involving privacy on Facebook, here’s a well-sourced Wikipedia entry.

None of this necessarily indicates Facebook is intentionally trying to invade users’ privacy.

But it has helped Facebook earn the spot of America’s 11th most-hated company based on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, according to Business Insiders’s 18 Most Hated Companies.

Facebook’s revenue model is based on customization of advertisements based on the online activities of users.

Which means that the more information Facebook collects, the more money it can make. Therefore, Facebook’s profit motive will always conflict with the desire of users to limit who can see and use the information they provide – whether intentionally or through tracking cookies.

It’s important to know. For anyone worried about privacy, identity theft, personal security and other such issues, it means Facebook is not your friend.