Facebook has announced changes to their Data Use policy which appears to be related to the recent issues they had over their Sponsored Stories section, where they had to pay out $20 million to settle a lawsuit claim for violating user privacy, by using names and likes for advertising purposes.

Facebook LoginThe proposed changes is meant to provide more simplified language to their data usage, which has caused concern at The Register as the Facebook group are now ‘slurping’ mobile phone numbers, without providing clarity on why they are doing this.

The ‘simplified’ process currently spans 6 main pages, that are then sub-divided into many more sub-pages, a very complicated procedure making it hard to view the real extent of the privacy policy changes.

Intellectual Property

By using Facebook and sharing your own content that is protected by intellectual property rights (videos, photos, articles), Facebook has your automatic permission to allow Facebook a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royaly-free, worldwide licence to use any IP content you may share on the network.

Basically, they have the right to profit from any content you share, including re-selling content to 3rd parties, without the need to make payment to you for your generated content. A practice which many sites grant themselves in their terms and conditions.

Your Data & Ads

The most important update, relates to the recent lawsuit lost by Facebook, whereby they were using user names and images alongside commercial products, in a manner that made the advertisement ‘sponsored story’ look as an endorsement to their friends and other users of Facebook.

amazonOne example of this in practice is the user Nick Bergus who had made a joke on his Facebook profile about an Amazon listing for a 55 gallon drum of lube, stating “A 55-gallon drum of lube on Amazon. For Valentine’s Day. And every day. For the rest of your life.”.

It wasn’t long before his friends started highlighting that they were seeing Nick Bergus, with photograph, and comment appear in the sponsored stories for a 55 gallon drum of lube from Amazon.

It then wasn’t long before a class action lawsuit was filed by other users on Facebook, that were unhappy in seeing their profile being displayed on products in sponsored stories, without permission, which resulted in a $20 million settlement for users.

Since the lawsuit, Facebook is now proposing updated changes to the way it is handling sponsored stories;

Our goal is to deliver advertising and other commercial or sponsored content that is valuable to our users and advertisers. In order to help us do that, you agree to the following:

You give us permission to use your name, profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us.

This means, for example, that you permit a business or other entity to pay us to display your name and/or profile picture with your content or information, without any compensation to you. If you have selected a specific audience for your content or information, we will respect your choice when we use it.

If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to the terms of this section (and the use of your name, profile picture, content, and information) on your behalf.

We do not give your content or information to advertisers without your consent.

You understand that we may not always identify paid services and communications as such.

Facebook will now continue with this form of advertising, but with the assumption that if you use Facebook, then you are automatically giving Facebook the right to use your data to advertise products, which you may not be comfortable as unintentionally and unwittingly endorsing.

It is also of great concern that if you are under 18 and registered on the site, that theree is an automatic assumption that your parents have also agreed to the terms and conditions of Facebook, regardless of whether or not they have seen those terms & conditions.

The other worrying trend, is that your data may also be used to highlighted products, but no distinction may be made if it is an advert, or if it is a personal recommendation made by you.

Privacy changes to Shining Waters

With the continued erosion of privacy and the rights to control your own data on Facebook, which has always been a conflict with our project, which believes that users have a right to privacy online (hence the SSL encryption on the site), we have decided to change our commenting system and the way we update our Facebook page.

Previously, we were using a plugin to automatically post to Facebook, and draw in comments from Facebook to the site, which required the Facebook Connect tracker. This has now been removed, and neither will the comments automatically be scraped back into the site from Facebook, so we are effectively treating discussions on Facebook and this site, as complete separate entities.

Updates to Facebook will continue to be automatic, as we realise Facebook is an important tool for some of our users to keep up to date with news from the local area, and one of our volunteers who is more comfortable with Facebook, will take a more active role on keeping the Facebook page up-to-date.

For users that are concerned about their online privacy and security, we recommend the FireFox browser running some (or all) of the following plugins;

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