Facebook’s house of cards has taken yet another tumble today after Ars Technica revealed that Facebook tracks call and text message data from Android phones. The report originally claimed that Facebook did so without user consent, however the company released a statement that began with:
“You may have seen some recent reports that Facebook has been logging people’s call and SMS (text) history without their permission.
This is not the case.”
Facebook then explains that there are clear opt-in features in Facebook Lite and Messenger (the mobile apps involved in the call and SMS tracking). However, Facebook misses the mark with this statement. People are clearly concerned that Facebook is tracking the information at all, regardless of if they gave permission or not. From a legal standpoint, Facebook is protected because the user opted-in. However, from a reputation and approval standpoint, people are upset when they find out how much information Facebook gathers about them.
The Culture of Privacy Policies Needs to Change
The recent news about Facebook using its users’ data in shady ways may be the perfect catalyst to spark change in the way we look at privacy online. Currently most websites use long, complex privacy policies to tell users how their information will be gathered and used. In their current form, the policies work for the business to protect themselves from legal issues, but not for the user trying to actually understand how their information gets used.
According to Pew Research, “when it comes to managing their personal information, most adults are not sure what information is being collected or how it is being used.” This is due to the ways that companies disclose this information. Users can’t pick and choose which bits of their information are gathered or used. It is an all or nothing decision – either allow the company to use your information or don’t use the service. Unfortunately, people may have just a few choices of services they use, and the alternatives may offer the same, poor privacy protection.
As an alternative, data gathering techniques could be clearly stated in a list, and the user could choose to actively opt-in to each function. The result would be more control for the user, and unfortunately for the company, more privacy. If privacy is to be taken seriously by users, the companies delivering the products must also understand the responsibility they have to deliver true privacy.
Be Proactive About Privacy
Internet users have become complacent with respect to their privacy. Because websites like Facebook give users so little control, people feel they have no choice but to accept the, often privacy-invasive, data practices. As more stories like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, or the most recent SMS and call monitoring scandal, make headlines, people will begin to think about their privacy before signing up for a new service on the internet. As a result companies will be forced to adapt to empower the user, and not simply monetize their data.