A new report commissioned by the Belgian Data Protection Authority  finds that though Facebook “has not announced any changes to their privacy settings as part of its 2015 changes” the network’s current default settings do “remain problematic”.

When it comes to protecting your online reputation, it is important to take time to review your preferences on any social and professional media profiles you own.

From social to advertising network

The report ‘From social media service to advertising network: A critical analysis of Facebook’s Revised Policies and Terms’ looks at concerns over how Facebook’s data processing capabilities have increased, and how the social networking service is potentially becoming an ‘advertising network’.

Based on the findings of two key research projects – EMSOC and SPION, the report has been funded by the Flemish Agency for Innovation through Science and Technology. As well as exploring privacy settings, the report also considers Facebook’s approach to: consent; unfair contract terms; how Facebook “combines” and “shares” data about its users; further use of  user-generated content; location; tracking, and data subject rights.

Facebook’s Privacy Settings

Privacy settings, as described in the report, are “control mechanisms” which allow users to tailor who has access to their “profile information.”

One of the key reasons why the report’s authors believe Facebook’s privacy settings to be problematic is because the networking service’s ‘privacy basics’ information, which provides users with information on how to set their privacy settings, only explains about how to set ‘social’ privacy controls, rather than the settings for ‘advertising or access by third-party application providers’.

Facebook, as a network, provides users with the flexibility to determine who has access to their personal information – this varies from ‘only me’ to ‘friends’, ‘friends of friends’, ‘public’ or ‘custom’ settings. Information about Facebook’s privacy settings is clearly set out on their website here.

Social Privacy

Facebook’s social privacy settings allow users to determine who can see their information and to safeguard their information from other individuals where necessary. The default setting, and the one for new users, is ‘friends’.

It is worth noting that when ‘new users’ post something for the first time, the post will automatically be shared with ‘friends’ only – this is the default setting. However, as the report points out, if the new user, for example, changes the setting to ‘public’ the post, and all their future posts, will be shared publicly – unless the user re-sets the default setting.

Third Party Privacy

When it comes to third parties, such as advertisers, however, the level of control over Facebook privacy settings is not so clear cut. The report claims that although users are able to “regulate access by other individuals” they “cannot exercise meaningful control over the use of their personal information by Facebook or third parties” – giving users a “false sense of control”.

Leading the report to question whether Facebook’s privacy controls do in fact offer “legally effective consent” to users – who are required to “opt-out” when it comes to social advertising.

Facebook offers the following information with regards to advertisements: “Sometimes the advertisers who present ads on Facebook use technological methods to measure the effectiveness of their ads and to personalize advertising content. You may opt-out of the placement of cookies by many of these advertisers here. You may also use your browser cookie settings to limit or prevent the placement of cookies by advertising networks.”

Protecting Your Reputation Online

It is important to be vigilant when using any social or professional media network. Always check the terms and conditions of the websites you are accessing, and read the privacy settings. Ensure your personal preferences are set to your requirements for any online profiles you own, and review these regularly. Remember also, the web is an open tool, and you are unable to control how ‘other users’ or websites choose to share information.

If you require advice on protecting your personal reputation online please contact Simon Wadsworth by email: simon@igniyte.com or call her on tel: +44 (0) 203 542 8686 in confidence.

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