Facebook Flexes Political Muscle, on Eve of “Improving” Privacy

facebook privacy


As tipped in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s not-quite apology the other day, Facebook‘s due to address its poor performance on user privacy. And as part of its drive to fix stuff, it’s addressing House and Senate staff on Thursday, flexing a little political muscle.

Mashable was the first to dig up some info on the event, via a curiously (or perhaps ironically) open “public event” page on Facebook itself–shown in the image above. As you can see, the event description reiterates some of Zuckerberg’s points, and invites only House and Senate staff to turn up on Thursday from 4 p.m. notes that the organizer is Corey Owens, hired to Facebook in March and previously working at privacy advocacy group the Constitution Project, as its press secretary. This is going to be one of Owens’ first official events, and it’s a big one.

Facebook frequently runs meetings to help politicians understand how best to use its services as a conduit to their constituents, but this is quite definitely something different. It’s all about getting officials to “learn about” what the new privacy tools “mean” for their constituents and “the future of sharing online.” This is wondrous political rhetoric, at once hinting that Facebook is going to be definitely acting in the interests of its users, and will be defining the future of info sharing on the entire Web (not just in social networking, and not just in the U.S.).

The interesting thing about this point is that nobody expects Facebook to give in to the increasingly noisy demands from politicians of all flavors that it should toe the line on user protection, or submit to some form of regulation. This reluctance to genuinely change stance on privacy is reflected in a careful reading of Zuckerberg’s letter in the Washington Post–he doesn’t really say that Facebook is going to change anything, just make it slightly easier for users to switch their privacy settings from low to high. In other words, Facebook is still going to decide when and what of your previously “personal” data it now considers fair game to be broadcast to the Web, so that Facebook can make more money.

So this meeting would seem to be, at least from an observer’s point of view, Facebook’s PR team operating on transmit and hand-shakey, back-slappy mode. It’s not a dialogue, it’s a slick disaster-diversion effort.

And what exactly are we expecting Facebook’s new privacy measures to be? Nothing that depletes Facebook’s powers to share stuff you thought was private–the company may move ever so slightly on this matter, but it’s intent is to get you to share more and more over time, so don’t expect big concessions. We’ll probably see a much more streamlined system for switching your sharing controls to a more private mode, and that’s about it. And frankly, this part is welcome. Because anything simpler than having to carefully weed through about a hundred and fifty different settings is better.


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