Timeline of Facebook privacy policy: from reasonable (2005) to apocalyptic (2010)

Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Kurt Opsahl has gone spelunking in the history of Facebook's privacy policies over the past five years, presenting a timeline that starts with something fairly moderate and reasonable in 2005 and moves to the current 2010 version which basically says, "By using Facebook, you agree to let us film your life 24/7, sell it to advertisers, ridicule it, or make a reality show from it."

As Kurt says, "Viewed together, the successive policies tell a clear story. Facebook originally earned its core base of users by offering them simple and powerful controls over their personal information. As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it's slowly but surely helped itself -- and its advertising and business partners -- to more and more of its users' information, while limiting the users' options to control their own information."

Facebook Privacy Policy circa 2005:
No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.

Current Facebook Privacy Policy, as of April 2010:
When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends' names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. ... The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to "everyone." ... Because it takes two to connect, your privacy settings only control who can see the connection on your profile page. If you are uncomfortable with the connection being publicly available, you should consider removing (or not making) the connection.

Facebook's Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline


  1. General rule: You should treat anything posted to Facebook as if it is as publicly accessible as an indexed blog.

    Because, really, that’s basically the way things are now. Shame.

    And, as a side note, just never, NEVER run any applications. They’re almost all stupid time wasters, and just by opening them you give them permission to pry into you.

  2. In response to the new “invite spammers into my life” policy, I started the “Protecting my privacy by making all my Facebook information wrong” group. The idea is to encourage people to render their private information useless by making it wildly inaccurate (or at least mangling the data beyond automated machine readability.) Naturally, it violates the terms of service. Let Facebook kick me off: I’m not going to do it myself.

  3. can i be the one to say it? if you don’t like the policies of facebook, remove your account. the world wide web is entirely demand driven. if enough people remove the information that makes facebook a success, then one of two things will happen. either they will reverse decisions to retain the customer base, or a new service that does offer the privacy you seek will open up. there were “personal” (i.e social-networking) sites prior to facebook (anyone care to enumerate them), there will be ones after it.

    1. The problem is that Facebook does not respect requests to delete any info you may have entered, so it’s best to first “shred” the data with inaccurate input, then have it deleted. I personally have lost faith in Facebook, and suspect that they will simply roll back the shredding if it’s blatant enough and keep abusing the information we gave them in good faith.

      In retrospect, it doesn’t seem to be much of a surprise: anecdotes about Zuckerberg paint him to be amoral and all too willing to rip off others. No wonder we’re all nervous about what Google will do with its data mine…

    2. if you don’t like the policies of facebook, remove your account. the world wide web is entirely demand driven.

      Hear, hear. Everyone bitches about the policies of Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, eBay, etc.–but then continues to do business with them.

      The web’s great and all, but there’s a herd mentality that people don’t get past–and it’s to their own detriment. Instead of winnowing your options, you need to expand them. Virtual monopolies can afford to ignore your wishes. Companies in robust competition cannot.

      Continuing to support outfits who don’t serve you as you wish to be served is not just counterproductive, it’s dangerous.

  4. Apocalyptic? Your point was lost in the hyperbole of the headline, because somehow I doubt Facebook’s privacy problems will cause “the complete destruction of the world.”

  5. I’ve become more and more concerned about Facebook. They are setting a precedent for other companies (and to be fair, following others).

    Does Facebook have the right to do whatever they want? Absolutely.

    The problem is the way they do it. Instead of opt-in, they automatically do that for you. They do not make opting out an easy proposition either. They camouflage this, bury it, and create negative consequences for not allowing them all your data (your life).

    Now, if you choose to disable certain features because (gulp) you actually value your data; many features and much of your data is lost. In many cases, the pre-existing and/or existing functionality which many have grown to love are now lost and unusable.

    One example of a hard hand tactic is the Pages functionality. If you choose not to participate, much of your profile is lost. Just gone. Poof. In other words, Facebook is saying if you don’t play by our rules (which include NO privacy and allowing them to monetize your life/data), then you won’t be able to play in their sandbox at all. They do this coyly and in ways that are designed to confuse/trick the average user.

    Facebook is not the only one doing this type of thing. They are just one of many. Outside of the moral/ethical questions, these companies are putting your life on display for anyone and everyone.

    In my opinion, one of the great things about the Internet has been the wonderful anonymity of it. It has allowed many to express themselves in ways that they normally would not (or could not). Although there is some bad with this, there is much greater good. This has led to more creativity, more passion, more innovation. With the anonymity available on the Internet (as we have known it in the past) many have been able to move past the limitations in our everyday life. We are able to say, click on, interact, and surf the web without the fear/limitations that we may have in regular life (i.e. image, social pressure, peer pressure, socio-economics et al). In “real life” there are many things which hold us back from finding new ways to express ourselves.

    The Internet is a way to experiment with who we are. Once that is lost and there is no anonymity, we will lose the canvas we have used to experiment and express our inner selves.

    1. kaffeen said, “…these companies are putting your life on display for anyone and everyone.”

      These companies are NOT doing that … YOU are!

  6. I wonder why there is not an open and decentralized social networking PROTOCOL?

    Seems to me there is real demand for this.

    Or maybe there is one, but it’s nowhere near enough critical mass to be interesting?

  7. No one will delete their account, even if it gets worse, without a better alternative. The question is, who is going to create ‘Fairbook’?

    1. No one will delete their account, even if it gets worse, without a better alternative.

      Then y’all deserve what y’all get.

      And quit bitching.

  8. I’ve deleted my account. I know many of my friends and family have as well. I can’t speak for others, but I suspect it is more than you would guess. I will say that some have probably castrated their accounts in some way, shape, or form (rather than just delete). Interestingly, it is not easy to delete your account either. I had to find this by digging through many irrelevant links. In addition, it takes 14 days. If you click on a friend or family link that is sent in an email or otherwise available and it happens to connect to Facebook, you get automatically reactivated. It is like the Hotel California, you can check out, but never leave.

  9. Surely the facebook giant heads consider brand erosion in their decision making process regarding privacy policy changes and what we are seeing are changes they consider to strike and acceptable balance. Maybe this is a generous assumption. What happens if the miss their target by even a little bit? Could they blow the whole thing up. Or put another way…what is the elasticity of user tolerance for this?

  10. This is why I don’t bother reading privacy policies. Want privacy? Then push for legislation or standards bodies to set up privacy standards. Otherwise, you’re leaving it up to the changing whims of a private entity. May as well treat everything you post online as if it had been written on postcards.

  11. This is precisely why I universally reject all FaceBook app requests & invitations…

    …That and the fact that they’re virtually all stupid.

    1. Google already cooperates with NSA. Soon Facebook will also, and then you just register your account with basic information and your interests, friends and photos will be automatically added.

  12. Insurance company revokes person’s health insurance because of lifestyle analysis observed via Facebook….I made up this headline but seems too probable to become an issue of the future….

  13. It’s hard for me to understand what all the fuss is about. But then again I’ve never used my ‘real’ name on the Internet in any public way since my days on compuserve. Even then there was a gaming forum owner that was insisting that all members only post under their full name. I refused then and continue to refuse to do so. The net is not particularly private and never really has been. The veil of ‘anonymity’ it has appeared to have is really just finding out that we’re not alone in our uniqueness and it’s way easier to share ideas. If you want anonymity create an online persona separate from your offline one – simple.

  14. What I find a little more disconcerting is that you are not allowed to have interests in movies, books, or music that FaceBook does not have in their database of approved things to be interested in. That means many of the more quirky things that really do define who I am are things I am unable to list as interests. It says that the information was updated, but then the additions never appear. So instead I just deleted all my interests. If I am not allowed to be interested in media outside of a prescribed set of allowed titles, if I am only allowed to define myself in terms of anything but marketing demographics, then I see no reason to express interest in anything.

    Oh, and it turns out that Paolo Soleri is a famous actor and movie director and not an architect and philosopher as we have been led to believe by all his writings and architecture. At least if their pages links are to be believed. Come to think of it, so were all the authors it tried to link my to.

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