Facebook Launches Email Service, Finding Privacy Information Takes Some Digging

The folks over at everyone’s “favorite” social network, MySpace Facebook launched a new service on their site this week (as far as I can tell, it launched this weekend) called Facebook Messages.  The idea behind the service is to consolidate all your different Facebook messaging, texts, notices and other direct communications and allow for more cross-platform integration.  Messages also allows other people to send email messages directly to your Facebook account from outside of Facebook.  So now those Nigerian princes and V1@gra salesmen have a new way to hassle you.  Brilliant guys, just what no one ever wanted!

The potential for more spam aside, Messages seems great and all, but I find one thing noticeably lacking: no comparable update to the company privacy policy.  How do I know?  Two ways: first, because when I opted in (which I thoroughly appreciate compared with previous changes where you had to opt out) there was no link to how the system affected users’ privacy; and second, because as of right now, the Facebook privacy policy is still dated December 22, 2010.  You would think that a service that creates a whole new messaging platform would change something about the way the company collects and manages your information. You might also think that the company would be obligated to tell users how such a change would affect them if they signed up.  Well, they do provide information about privacy, but you have to go the the Top Questions about the New Messages page to get that info.  Searching for “messages privacy” doesn’t really work.  It’s interesting that they seem to have really gotten the message that new services that affect privacy in any way need to be “opt in.”  This is a major tenet of the proposed privacy bill working its way through Congress and something I’ve argued for in previous posts and in my class.

Either way, this information  should be easier to find.  Even if most people aren’t going to read a new policy in the first place, but it’s not really important if they do.  Privacy policies, unlike almost every other standard form contract encountered by Internet users, are meant to bind the providing company, not the users.  That’s why it’s always a big deal when companies are found to have breached those policies.

Anyhow, my guess is that we’re standing at the forefront of the latest cycle of Facebook pushing out a new technology, waiting for community outrage and then responding with a half measure that looks like a concession when really it’s all they wanted in the first place.  Messages offers a nice way to stay on top of incoming notices, but it raises a lot of security questions that users should have some specific concerns.  That’s just how they roll.  I guess there’s not much to do at this point but take your righteous indignation to the streets (or walls), or simply do what I do and sit back and enjoy the show.  It’s about to get interesting.

About Justin Kwong

An attorney in the Twin Cities and adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law where I teach a seminar on the law of virtual worlds.
This entry was posted in Contracts and Agreements, Privacy, Social Networks and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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