Facebook Updates Its Policy Documents Regarding How It Uses And Shares Your Data

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Today Facebook proposed a raft of changes to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data-Use Policies, two separate documents that govern the way the company handles advertising, user data, and third-party retention of that data.

The updates are “proposals,” Facebook tells me, and so they will accept and review comments on them from its user community. However, I doubt that the company is up for much iteration. As its Chief Privacy Office Erin Egan noted in a short statement, Facebook is “proposing this update as part of a settlement in a court case relating to advertising.”

The proposals are broad and varied, so we have some ground to cover:

Ads

The rewritten section about ads is clear: “You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content.” In other words, Facebook can use anything you have uploaded in its advertising algorithms and systems.

This is neither surprising nor out of bounds. That Facebook would employ public information supplied by its users to generate revenue is hardly evil. Importantly, Facebook will respect your privacy choices in how it uses your content: “If you have selected a specific audience for your content or information, we will respect your choice when we use it.” Good.

Legal

Another change to the rules will be of interest to the litigious among you: Legal action against Facebook is now limited to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, or in a state court “located in San Mateo County.” The prior set of rules demanded a Santa Clara court, but the company moved its headquarters, thus requiring the change.

Data Usage

Facebook changed its data-usage rules, as well. The company now claims the right to know what sort of computer or other device you are using. So, it can tell if you are on Android or the like. This is somewhat innocuous, though Facebook does retain the right to — and this is not new — “get your GPS or other location information so we can tell you if any of your friends are nearby.” Big Facebook. That buzzing on your phone is your friend checking into the bar a block away.

Sharing Your Data

Facebook also claims the right to share your public information with others: “We may enable access to public information that has been shared through our services, or allow service providers to access information so they can help us provide service.” In other words, Facebook can vend your public information to others. Lock down whatever you really don’t want out there, folks.

Data Retention by Third Parties

When you sign up for an application, it requests access to your information, perhaps your email address or other datum. It can store that information if it wants, on its own servers, and keep it, even if you have deleted the application itself from Facebook.

Thus, what you provide to an application at the start you should presume to be theirs in perpetuity. When you delete an application, the connection is severed, but their copy — provided that they made one — remains. You can directly reach out to the company and request that your information be deleted.

However, provided that the terms of service of the third-party app or game don’t require them to do so, I don’t see how you have much standing as a single user. That information is therefore in their hands. Facebook has stern rules about how that data can be used, it should be noted. I think the language is strong. Still, I have a slight frown about this. I had never given the issue much thought, and honestly thought that applications merely accessed my information via my permission from Facebook itself — that the data was always on Facebook’s side. That is not the case.

Reason to stop using Facebook? That’s your call. Reason to stop downloading every dating app on Friday night after a few too many gin and tonics and granting them all rights to just about your entire Facebook data set? Yeah, probably.

The changes confirm that Facebook wants to use your data as much as possible to generate advertising incomes, and that other parties want as much access to your data as possible. If you feel a creeping sensation on the back of your neck, recall that privacy is evolving, and what cooly irks you today is something that would have made you hopping mad five years ago. Our tolerance for sharing is constantly expanding, not receding.

A section-by-section teardown of the changes can be found here in case you want to get into the weeds.

Top Image Credit: Acid Pix