Thursday, September 12, 2013

Facebook's new privacy policy (as proposed), and "sponsored story" mechanism, draws attention from FTC; parents explain how kids' anonymity can be lost forever

Today (Thursday, September 12, 2013) the New York Times, in Business Day, reported on an FTC inquiry on Facebook’s recently proposed privacy changes, in an article by Vindu Goel and Edward Wyatt, link here. The controversy seems to deal with Facebook’s practice of “sponsored story” advertising, where a user’s (favorable) comments about some particular company’s product or service is given more prominence in the display before “friends” that it would otherwise normally get as with the Timeline.  There is a possibility that it could annoy friends, or convey a misleading impression of the subject’s activity.  However, it is not quite the same thing as an underground endorsement, because it does not make a public broadcast of the user’s comments outside of the Facebook whitelist.  It’s not hard to imagine, however, how this could present touchy incidents with employers, or among teachers and students. 

Tech Crunch has an analysis and direct link to the proposed Facebook changes, Aug. 29, here
Slate has a more revealing article, dated Sept. 4, by Amy Webb, “We post nothing about our daughter online” (except maybe one baby picture), which shows the insidious danger to children and young people as digital technology for tagging and automated facial recognition grows in the future. Anonymity, privacy, and separation as I knew it (as a gay man) for much of my adult life, until I made myself very public in 1997, would be impossible. 

I do, as a matter of my own practice, have a real problem with the idea of being expected to “endorse” anything because that compromises my objectivity as a journalist, and amounts to a possible ethical conflict of interest.  (I had to deal with this big time in 1997 when I published my first book, as I have explained before with my own dealings with the military.)   Facebook’s practice probably would not cause me a real problem in the way I conduct my own web and real world presence, but it could for other people.  

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