New data storage rules, permissions could rekindle Facebook privacy concerns

Facebook is getting rid of restrictions that developers can only store user data for 24 hours in a move that could rekindle privacy concerns.

The company said the reason for the change was primarily technical as the restrictions have been difficult for developers to work around, the company said. The move was greeted with applause when chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced it on-stage at the f8 conference in San Francisco today.

“We heard that developers had to build different code paths to comply with this policy. That became a huge part of their decision of whether to integrate with Facebook,” Zuckerberg said. The company said the original intent of the old policy was to make sure user data stayed up to date in other applications. It allowed developers to subscribe to user data as people changed their profiles.

The issue, however, is that once a user now hands over data and signs off on permissions with a new application, that data is with that developer indefinitely.

While Facebook does crack down on developers that use data in misleading or malicious ways or that break the company’s terms of agreement, it’s impossible for the company to know about every single violation, given the 500,000 applications it supports. And in some cases, there may be a real incentive for an application not to disclose what it really does with that data.

Facebook also simplified data-sharing permissions today. They now take one pop-up instead of two or three in a row, making it even more frictionless for users to share data with more applications.

The company is also making its log-ins more seamless, removing the initial prompt from certain special partner sites from Microsoft, Pandora and Yelp.

Facebook emphasized that its privacy policy and terms of agreement with developers hadn’t changed despite the new feature launches.

“Nothing that we released today changes any of the privacy protections we have,” said Elliott Schrage, the company’s vice president of public policy and communications. “We’re providing new opportunities for people to have a social experience if they want it.”

Historically, Facebook has always struggled with balancing the twin goals of enabling valuable web experiences through its data and offering granular control over how that information is distributed.

Last December, the company allowed users to change their privacy settings. But it defaulted everyone who had never fiddled with controls to making everything public, raising charges that the company was being too cavalier with pressuring users to share all of their information.

“We run lots of tests with different iterations to see what users understand,” Zuckerberg said. Before the company did its privacy overhaul, he said, the company ran tests for six months. “We made sure to optimize and ask questions like, what do people come away with from that? Do they understand what the settings are?”


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