Privacy issue haunts Facebook

Privacy issue haunts Facebook

in trouble: The recent rows threaten the social networking site’s future.

On Wednesday, users discovered a glitch that gave them access to supposedly private information in the accounts of their Facebook friends, like chat conversations. Although Facebook quickly moved to close the security hole, the breach heightened a feeling among many users that it was becoming hard to trust the service to protect their personal information.

Expert’s answer

Facebook said it did not think the security hole, which was open a few hours, would have a lasting impact on the company’s reputation. “For a service that has grown as dramatically as we have grown, that now assists with more than 400 million people sharing billions of pieces of content with their friends and the institutions they care about, we think our track record for security and safety is unrivaled,” said Elliot Schrage, the company’s vice president for public policy.

Facebook is increasingly finding itself amid tense discussion over privacy  said James E Katz, a professor of communications at Rutgers    University. Augie Ray, an analyst with Forrester Research said,  “While this breach appears to be relatively small, it’s inopportunely timed.” “It threatens to undermine what Facebook hopes to achieve with its network over the next few years, because users have to ask whether it is a platform worthy of their trust.”

New changes unwelcomed

Over the last few months, Facebook has introduced changes that encourage users to make their photos and other information accessible to anyone on the Internet. Last month its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, unveiled plans to begin sharing users’ information with some outside Web sites, and Facebook began prompting users to link information in their profile pages in a way that makes that information public. That last change prompted the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group, to file a complaint  with the Federal Trade Commission.

Schrage said that the company was aware that some users were not happy with the changes, but that the overall response had been positive. Part of the reason Facebook’s recent changes are upsetting users is that, in contrast to a service like Twitter, most people signed up for Facebook with the understanding that their information would be available only to an approved circle of friends, said Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft. As the company has changed its approach to privacy, it has introduced new ways for users to adjust their privacy settings. But these tools have grown increasingly convoluted, leaving many users frustrated and unsure of the information. In addition, many users are not even aware of the privacy settings.

Eyeing the market

There are financial motives behind the company’s moves. One of the ways Facebook makes money with its free service is by customizing the selection of advertisements shown to individual users. The more information publicly available about users, the more the company can make from such focused ads. Analysts say Facebook may be eyeing the lucrative market for online search, figuring that its users will be more likely to turn to their friends for advice and information than the wider Web.

Schrage said the controversy over the site’s changes was indicative of a larger shift online. “Facebook has been made the center of attention around a really important issue of how technology is changing the conception of privacy, control and sharing,” he said. “People are uneasy about it, but as they start to see the benefits and advantages of it, they start to see the value of the experiences.”

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