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Facebook previews GDPR privacy tools and, yep, it's the same old BS


Uh-huh. Right. I see

This is already misleading because you are not actually given a clear choice who you can share it with.

It goes on:

"Because you chose to add your religious views, political views or whether you’re interested in men or women to your Facebook profile, we want to make sure you know it’s data that’s specially protected under EU law. If you decide to keep it in your profile, we’ll share it with the people you choose and use this data to personalize features and products."

Again, this is very carefully worded. It was you that chose to add this information (and why wouldn't you – are you ashamed of who you are?) And you have the choice to take it out your profile but then you won't get personalized features and products.

Here's what it would say if being completely honest:

Your sexual, religious and political beliefs are incredibly personal to you and so incredibly hard to infer. As a result this information is extremely valuable to companies, some of whom have been known to use that information unethically. As a result of a history of abuse, European lawmakers have given this information special legal protections. But those companies are willing to pay us money for that information and so unless you specifically tell us we can't, we will figure out a way to sell it to them.

That is just the first paragraph – the explanation goes on much further – but you can avoid having to scroll down by clicking that blue button, or, you know, the grey manage settings.

Click manage settings and you go to more screens – each and every one telling you why it's a good idea to let Facebook have that information.

Are you sure? Really sure?

Here's what it says on the next screen: "If you add your religious views to your profile, we will make it visible to those you choose on your profile and may also suggest related Facebook groups for you to join based on your faith, for example.

"If you decide not to add your religious views, we won’t use that information to suggest groups, or other features or products."

Again, you will have to go elsewhere to figure out how to "choose" who can view this information, and the "may also suggest" actually means "will place an ad on your page if someone is interested in targeting you and pays us for it."

This pattern repeats over and over again. It is a slog with someone constantly tapping your on your shoulder suggesting you do something different.

You're at a supermarket and only want a bottle of water. But the checkout person says to you: "Are you sure you only want that bottle of water?" Yes. "We have a special today on this soda. Two for the price of one." No, just the water, please. "Are you sure, because experts say this soda is actually good for your health." Just the water, please.

"Ok, just the water. Now, can I interest you in this chocolate bar? It's made from ethically sourced beans and was voted Best Chocolate in 2018. I can give you a free sample bar."

No thanks, just the water.

"Great, just the water. Now, how about a sandwich to go with that water? You're bound to get hungry later and this is a great sandwich, shall I add it your bag?"

Just the water, please.

"Did you know that someone died just last week from drinking too much water. It’s true. It's called hyperhydration and it causes your brain to swell because the levels of salt in your water fall to dangerous levels. Now if you want water, I have this nutrient rich water that would make sure that never happened. Would you like me to swap it out for you?"

No thanks, I'd like this water please.

"Yes, of course. But I do need you to sign this form saying that I have warned you about the dangers of drinking too much water before I can allow you to leave with that bottle…"

Mark Suckerberg

Here are just a few more examples of where Facebook's new "privacy settings" suck:

  • Face recognition is all or nothing: turn it on and let us sell the information, or turn it off and let us figure out how to get your friends to pressure you into turning it on.
  • The legally required parental consent for children for some features is ridiculously easy to bypass – the equivalent of the web button that says "Yes I am 21." It lets kids decide who their parent is – in order to gain consent - rather than use its own settings to notify the actual parent. It will take kids 20 seconds to figure out a way around this – and Facebook knows it.
  • You get an option to stop targeted ads based on the information that Facebook stores on you every time you visit a website with a Facebook Pixel while logged into to its service, but no option to stop the company from changing your home page using the same information.
  • You still have to agree to its Terms and Conditions and it goes out of its way to make it hard not to – a tiny hyperlink next to another huge blue button. Even then, it is their way or the highway. Every thing you do and view on Facebook and elsewhere while logged into Facebook - and even when you're not - is gathered, packaged and sold.

So, Facebook sucks. But let's look at what it would do if it really gave a damn about user privacy.

Real world solutions

Most obviously it would give you a simple choice and then automatically made all the other settings change to match it, something like "Strong Privacy", "Gentle Privacy", "Open Settings".

You would have one page with a single option and, by clicking on an information link, a fair and objective assessment of what each option means.

It could also make those options flexible, rather than permanent unless you dig in and change them. For example, you could be given the option to be alerted each time a new user wants to identify you with face recognition.

You could be given honest options such as: "Share this information with third parties"; "Never share this information with third parties."

You could be given a clear screen that shows in a color-coded and icon format what rights Facebook does and does not have over your information.

How come is it that Facebook demonstrates an extraordinary level of brilliance when it comes to icons – even spending years deciding on the range of emojis it would allow people to choose – but as soon as it comes to privacy, it resorts to reams of text?

The web giant could also make plain what information it will never provide to anyone else.

There are dozens of ways that Facebook can do a much better job when it comes to its users' personal and private information. But it isn't going to. Even after the past few months, Facebook is trying to ride it out – as it has done countless times in the past.

All Facebook cares about is money and keeping users on its service in order to make that money. And nothing will change until either lawmakers write a law that restricts what it can do, or users start deleting their accounts en masse. That is the takeaway from today's preview of its shambolic new privacy settings. ®

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