Exactly How Responsible Are We For Privacy?

privacyFacebook recently entered a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission admitting all manner of fraud in its privacy policies.  The list of violations admitted are shocking enough to make the most hardened among us blush.

Here is the list of violations to which Facebook admitted, from the FTC announcement.

  • “Facebook changed its website so certain information that users may have designated as private – such as their Friends List – was made public. They didn’t warn users that this change was coming, or get their approval in advance.”
  • “Facebook represented that third-party apps that users’ installed would have access only to user information that they needed to operate. In fact, the apps could access nearly all of users’ personal data – data the apps didn’t need.”
  • “Facebook told users they could restrict sharing of data to limited audiences – for example with ‘Friends Only.’ In fact, selecting ‘Friends Only’ did not prevent their information from being shared with third-party applications their friends used.”
  • “Facebook had a ‘Verified Apps’ program & claimed it certified the security of participating apps. It didn’t.”
  • “Facebook promised users that it would not share their personal information with advertisers. It did.”
  • “Facebook claimed that when users deactivated or deleted their accounts, their photos and videos would be inaccessible. But Facebook allowed access to the content, even after users had deactivated or deleted their accounts.”
  • “Facebook claimed that it complied with the U.S.- EU Safe Harbor Framework that governs data transfer between the U.S. and the European Union. It didn’t.”

We shouldn’t be surprised that Facebook would use every means at its disposal to gain a business advantage (especially if you’ve see The Social Network), but the sheer impunity of the violations is still shocking.

Facebook agreed to a long list of reforms, but do you still feel good about using social media data in your research analysis?

If you have any grounding in the history of market research and its respect for respondent privacy, you should pause to consider the implications of the Facebook settlement for the future of market research.

Research-Live.com editor Brian Tarran writes about this dilemma in his recent post, “What the Facebook FTC settlement means for market research.”

“The question is, how do researchers respond knowing that errors of technology and ethical judgement might be commonplace?” Tarran writes. “Can they – and more importantly, should they – trust the promises a site makes to its users about its terms of service or privacy policy? Legal recourse for misuse of data might land on the website itself, but does that mean researchers are absolved of all ethical and moral responsibility to the people they are taking data from?”

These are important issues, indeed. As an industry, we should keep our eyes wide open and continue to be the skeptical data consumers we have been trained to be.

We should use our professional judgement to exclude data where there is a reasonable supposition that privacy violations exist.

We should lend our strong support to proper regulatory efforts like the FTC’s investigation as privacy advocates and as professionals with an interest in data integrity.

Once we’ve taken those steps, though, we’ve done our part.

We should then keep forging ahead and using social media data in our analyses.

It would be a shame if our noble concern for privacy were to stop us from innovating and taking advantage of new data sources, data collection methodologies and analytical techniques.

The reality is we are limited in our ability to control the privacy policies and practices of other organizations.  We must rely on the proper authorities to enforce privacy violations.  We should have a critical approach to our use of data.

Beyond that, we have satisfied our responsibility, and we should proceed boldly.

Photo Credit:  Alan Cleaver

Related posts:

  1. Upcoming Webinar: Taking on the Great Privacy Debate
  2. Facebook Backlash Sparks Transparency Tools
  3. The Great Data Privacy Debate: A Summary
  4. How the Like Button Changes Everything
  5. How to Use Facebook for Market Research Surveys
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About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.