The column incorrectly said that Chris Kelly is on leave as Facebook's chief privacy officer. Kelly, now a Democratic candidate for attorney general of California, resigned March 16.
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The latest Facebook fracas: Your privacy vs. its profit
More important, consider what's happened since Facebook made far more user data public by default in December. According to Schnitt, 33.9 percent of Facebook users had changed their privacy settings one way or another, even though the site required all of them to confirm, decline or edit its suggested options. Since then, 50 million more people have joined Facebook.
You can't chalk all of that up to audience obliviousness.
Perhaps Facebook users have decided that with so many people on the site, their own data get lost in the collective noise -- sort of the way living in a big city affords some enforced anonymity.
Some might have learned to think like publicists on Facebook. They dial back how much information they post, they only write status updates that beg for publicity (think of all the political manifestoes you've seen), or they create second accounts for their work identities (an action Facebook's user agreement prohibits).
Or maybe Facebook's executives are correct in assuming that people don't want as much privacy online, as founder Mark Zuckerberg said in January. (He did not say that privacy was dead, nor does he seem to think that; his own Facebook profile informs strangers that "Mark only shares some of his profile information with everyone.")
But even if all of those theories are true, changing the rules to share people's information without advance permission crosses a line. If the benefits of this openness are as obvious as Facebook suggests, this new option should sell itself to the same people who let Google's computers read their Gmail, then publicize their pastimes on Foursquare. And if this experiment is as limited as Facebook suggests, the company won't forgo much revenue if it eases off on its launch.
In the meantime, I'll stay on the site -- as a journalist, it's implausible not to. But it would help to see some sign that this company will go to the mat to defend its users' rights, even if that means jeopardizing its profits. It's not too late for Facebook to pick a fight with China, is it?
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