Facebook still collects massive amounts of data, but at least it's more honest about it than ever
Facebook might finally have learned that it's better to ask permission than beg forgiveness.
Instead of making unilateral changes to its data policy -- the document that dictates how it uses the information gleaned from its 1 billion users -- the company has published a draft of the new policy and asked users to comment on the proposed updates between today and November 2o.
The updated policy makes clear just how much information Facebook gathers when its users post a status update, use one of its applications, or purchase something through its service. It's almost idiot-proof: Facebook has made the new policy 70 percent shorter than its predecessor, and the most relevant sections are all organized in a nice, color-coded list that anyone can read.
Facebook will also make it easier for its users to opt out of some forms of advertisement targeting, and ensure that it honors a user's requests across its website and applications. While the sentiment is appreciated, it's worth noting that Facebook is introducing this feature right after it created a new platform that follows users across devices -- the decision to release a tool to avoid such targeting right after that platform was revealed probably wasn't a coincidence.
This doesn't mean Facebook users are going to be in the clear. It's still difficult to control the amount of information the company can collect, which includes everything from a consumer's wireless provider to location information gathered via Bluetooth and GPS. (Some, but not all, of that information can be blocked through a phone's operating system.)
The updated policy might even forecast expanded information gathering on Facebook's part. The company says in its announcement that it's going to increase its focus on commerce and ad displays based on a user's location, which will likely lead to greater collection of both payment and location data.
Of course, this might be a symptom of Facebook's belief that when its users talk about privacy, what they really mean is keeping information private from their friends. The company's handy new animations bundled under the "privacy basics" banner, for instance, focus exclusively on Facebook's attempts to make it easier for its users to decide what they share with other people.
There's no denying that this update will be good for Facebook users, if only because it makes it so much easier for them to learn about the information Facebook collects and why it does so. But it's also sort of like someone admitting that they're pissing on your face instead of trying to call it rain: while it's appreciated, it doesn't solve the underlying problem.
[Illustration by Niv Bavarsky for Pando]