CyberScout

A Thank You Letter to Facebook (From A Privacy Advocate)

A Thank You Letter to Facebook (From A Privacy Advocate)

You’ve been lambasted by the media, academics, politicians and privacy advocates regarding privacy issues. It's really not fair. When it comes to privacy, rather than being criticized, you should be commended, at least on a couple of levels.

First, thank you for significantly contributing to the global dialogue between the public, governments and the business community about privacy in the 21st century. Prior to Facebook, the subject of privacy tended to be relegated to small esoteric discussions among lawyers, academics and the like. The public didn’t think much (or frankly care much) about the issue. We all failed to recognize how much information we were revealing about ourselves on a daily basis. More importantly, the public didn’t think much about who was collecting that information and what it was being used for. But thanks to you, our awareness around privacy has grown considerably. The side effect of our willingness to reveal more information about ourselves has resulted in greater self-reflection by the public on the subject of privacy.

When you combine this philosophical reflection on privacy with your “ever evolving” corporate attitude on the subject (reflected in no less than six revised versions of your privacy policies since 2004), it makes sense why you have fueled the discussion around privacy by our society at large. Now the academic discussion on privacy by a few specialists has morphed into a conversation at cocktail parties and PTA meetings. We have you to thank for this.

But I also want to thank you for teaching the business community lessons about the importance of “Privacy by Design.” This term, coined by Dr. Ann Cavoukian, the privacy commissioner of Ontario, Canada, is really just “…the philosophy of embedding privacy proactively into technology itself—making it the default.” Unfortunately, you have become the poster child for the negative consequences of not thinking through the privacy implications when launching a product or service. Frankly, you have also paid the price in the form of negative PR and congressional attention for failing to make privacy the “default.” But your failures are also the business community’s lessons.

For the record, I don’t think that you are an evil company. I use Facebook. My family and friends use Facebook. You’ve been pretty open and honest about your changing views on privacy and have willingly demonstrated on the global stage just how difficult it is to ever really get it right. And so I wish you good luck and thanks again.

Sincerely,

Eduard Goodman, J.D., LL.M., CIPP