Facebook Privacy Policy

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acebook Privacy Policy, or "Data Use Policy", describes the ways that Facebook collects, stores, uses and protects the personal information of their users. In the social media realm, Facebook is considered to have the most prevalent impact on users with relation to their private information. The policy details the information they receive, what is classified as public information, how to mange your own account, and what parts of your account you actually own.


Since its incorporation just over five years ago, Facebook has undergone a remarkable transformation. When it started, it was a private space for communication focused on college and university groups. Soon, it transformed into a platform where information is public by default. Today, it has reached a stage where you have no choice but to make certain information public. This public information may be shared by Facebook with its partner websites and used to target ads.

Infographic on the evolution of privacy on Facebook (2005-2010): http://mattmckeon.com/facebook-privacy/


Over 20,000 new accounts are registered each day and 90% of college students have an active Facebook account, 90.8% of users have a profile picture, 87.8% choose to show their birthday, 39.9% display a phone number, and 50.8% list their current address on their profile.[1]

Development of Privacy Policy


Facebook originally earned its core base of users by offering them simple and powerful controls over their personal information and has since transitioned to a more open privacy policy. In 2005 their policy stated that a user's information they choose to disclose on the site will only be available to users belonging to a group that was granted such access in the user's privacy settings. [2] In the next year, their policy moved to users having control of the information and having the ability to limit or allow what is displayed. As the website grew and gained more members, they felt it was in their site’s best interest to make information available to others in the close networks around you. Facebook updated their privacy policy so that users in pre-selected networks such as school or friends of friends could view basic profile information that a user displays on the site.[2] By 2010, the site defaulted to an opt-in instead of an opt-out model and made everything available unless the user has specified not to. This policy change allowed people not logged into Facebook and third party applications such as search engines to be able to access the personal information of a user's Facebook profile. Facebook also stated that this personal information had no privacy limitations and could be used by Facebook or other parties within or outside the site as they so choose. [3]

Data Mining

Facebook has been collecting and analyzing site content without user consent or knowledge, frequently, over a vast number of ways. Facebook put in an advertising system called Beacon. It took the activity users conducted on other websites and sent that information back to Facebook [4]. The idea was that all of a user’s friends would be able to see their actions on their page with a link so that the friends could follow suit, which proves useful for advertising companies. This was very considered to be controversial since it monitored all user activity even when the user was singed out of Facebook.

The Cambridge Analytica Scandal

Cambridge Analytica, is a British data mining and data brokerage company that uses data analysis for the electoral process, also better known as a political data analytics firm. In May 2018, Facebook temporarily suspended Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) in addition to its political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, which Donald Trump was using as a data operations team for the 2016 presidential election campaign, for the misuse of personal information found on the site.[5] More specifically, the company reportedly violated Facebook's policies surrounding data collection and retention and is credited with aiding Trump to better target voters on Facebook and giving him an unfair advantage in reaching voters than Hilary Clinton.[5] Shortly after being suspended temporarily, Cambridge Analytica released a statement saying "when it subsequently became clear that the data had not been obtained by GSR [Global Science Research] in line with Facebook's terms of service, Cambridge Analytica deleted all data received from GSR."[6]

Sources say that it's difficult to tell exactly what information Cambridge Analytica obtained from as many as 50 million Facebook. However, studying Facebook's old API ("Application Programming Interface"; what's an API?) provides insight to what information may have been scraped before Facebook reworked its data scraping policies in 2014, two years before the election.[7] Additionally, sources say that it is unclear to what extent Cambridge Analytica helped in the 2016 election, but it is known that Trump's digital campaigning was "shockingly effective."[8]

As a result of these findings, lawmakers began to demand that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, testify before Congress due to the leak/invasion of privacy of just over 50 million Facebook users in addition to the interference in the 2016 presidential election and having possible Russian connections.[9] In addition legal issues, the public began to lash out at Facebook as users began to boycott the site entirely including the singer, Cher; the hashtag #DeleteFacebook began trending on Twitter along with #WheresZuck after Zuckerberg remained silent for several days after the problems came to light.[9]

As requested, Zuckerberg appeared before Congress where he testified to House and Senate committees where, on the first day, he faced questions about how user's information was improperly utilized. Zuckerberg reported that Facebook is now investigating "tens of thousands of apps" to find what information has been gathered.[9]


A class action lawsuit was lodged against the company on behalf of all Facebook users, claiming that the difficulty in opting-out of the system and the site was not telling them the entire truth. In 2009, Facebook settled that suit out of court for $9.5 million and also promised to shut down the Beacon system completely. Facebook received complaints again in December 2009 for changing its default setting being to share everything.[10] In April 2010, the social networking company made another set of changes, one of which was the “instant personalization” program, where it shares users’ names and other data with Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft Docs. Users can opt out, but if they don't do so their information is shared by default.[11]

In October 2010, Facebook was sued by users for applications or games that one can join as a member on Facebook and play with other members of the social networking website. Popular applications made for the social network, such as FarmVille, Zynga Poker and The Pioneer Trail (formerly known as "FrontierVille"), have been sending user's personal information to dozens of advertising and Internet monitoring companies.[12] Makers of Facebook applications were sending user ID numbers to outside firms. These numbers then could be used to look up people’s names and in some cases other information.

EPIC & FTC Complaints

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and 14 other consumer protection groups lodged a formal complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission. The groups take issue with Facebook's privacy policies and accuse the site of unfair and deceptive trade practices that infringe on a user's expectation of privacy while on the site. [13] The main concerns are Facebook's Instant Personalization feature; the inability of Facebook users to make the 'Likes and Interests' section of their profile private; and the fact that Facebook discloses user profile information in certain ways even if a user has elected to keep that information private. They essentially called for Facebook to reconstruct their privacy policies to grant user's more control over their information on the site. [13]

See Also


  1. World Stats. "Facebook Statistics" http://www.internetworldstats.com/facebook.htm
  2. 2.0 2.1 Facebook Privacy. https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/your-info
  3. Facebook's Site Governance. https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=+322194465300
  4. Computer World. "Lawmakers hit Facebook CEO with privacy questions" http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9191818
  5. 5.0 5.1 Newton, Casey. "Facebook suspended Donald Trump’s data operations team for misusing people’s personal information". https://www.theverge.com/2018/3/16/17132172/facebook-cambridge-analytica-suspended-donald-trump-strategic-communication-laboratories. 16 Mar 2018.
  6. Cambridge Analytica. "Cambridge Analytica responds to Facebook announcement". https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cambridge-analytica-responds-to-facebook-announcement-300615626.html. 17 Mar 2018.
  7. Hartmans, Avery. "It's impossible to know exactly what data Cambridge Analytica scraped from Facebook — but here's the kind of information apps could access in 2014". http://www.businessinsider.com/what-data-did-cambridge-analytica-have-access-to-from-facebook-2018-3. Published 22 Mar 2018.
  8. Illing, Sean. "Cambridge Analytica, the shady data firm that might be a key Trump-Russia link, explained". https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/16/15657512/cambridge-analytica-facebook-alexander-nix-christopher-wylie. 4 Apr 2018.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Confessore, Nicholas. "Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: The Scandal and the Fallout So Far". https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/us/politics/cambridge-analytica-scandal-fallout.html. 4 Apr 2018.
  10. PC World. "Facebook Hit With Privacy-Violation Lawsuit" http://www.pcworld.com/article/170402
  11. ESecurity. "Privacy Lawsuits Target Facebook, Google, Zynga" http://www.esecurityplanet.com/headlines/article.php/3910791
  12. Guardian Article. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/
  13. 13.0 13.1 Facebook Privacy. http://epic.org/privacy/facebook/. EPIC.