Privacy advocates in the U.S. and the European Union are on edge over changes Facebook is enacting in its language governing its terms of service.
Their upset comes as Facebook is proposing modifications to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (PDF) that, at least on the surface, seem fairly minor and don't indicate any radical shift in thinking or practice in terms of privacy.
"Facebook is a social Web site and so is our platform," he said. "Apps need data from friends to develop these social experiences and that is the whole purpose for our platform. If you're not comfortable with that, you can use your app settings to control what friends can share about you, block individual apps, or you can turn off the platform altogether."
But Sarah Downey, privacy analyst and attorney at online privacy company Abine, said with the changes Facebook is acknowledging that its focus is on collecting user data.
German officials are complaining that Facebook isn't doing enough to provide users control over their data and is instead giving users more duties and less rights. In a statement issued yesterday, the officials accuse Facebook of giving itself the right to "comprehensive tracking of registered and un-registered users."
Facebook added the words "and non-users who interact with Facebook" to a provision in the terms of service that say users consent to having personal data transferred to and processed in the U.S., and other conditions. Another section says "You will not tag users or send email invitations to non-users without their consent" and the words "or tag users if you know they do not wish to be tagged" were added to the end of that sentence.
Moritz Karg, spokesman for the data privacy and information freedom authority in Hamburg, argues that Facebook should be responsible for blocking tags on people who don't want them, instead of individual users, and is worried about Facebook's use of facial recognition technology, IDG News Service reported.
"If you don't want someone to be able to tag you, simply block them," Schnitt responded. "If you're tagged by someone else and want to remove it, we make that easy. We also created an easy way to complain directly to the user about a photo you don't like."
"Rumor is that post-IPO Facebook will try to launch its own ad network. So this tracking across the Web on non-Facebook sites suggests that," Downey said. "Facebook is a data collection machine and that's how they make their money."
The German officials also complain that Facebook didn't give users enough time to provide feedback on the changes. The company notified users via the Facebook Site Governance page a week ago and gave them until 5 p.m. PT today to comment. As of this afternoon, there were more than 700 comments, many of which were negative but not related specifically to the proposed terms of service changes.
"Rather than simply imposing changes on users, we propose them and invite feedback," Schnitt said. "We are the only site that I know of that proposes changes, solicits feedback, answers questions, and makes changes before the documents are official."
Facebook settled a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about its privacy practices last year, agreeing to let users "opt in" to changes that alter how their data is shared with advertisers and other users, among other things.