Facebook: More Privacy WoesMonday, October 18th, 2010 by Harry Lewis
The Wall Street Journal reports on leakage of Facebook data to the advertising world, even data held behind what were supposed to be Facebook’s highest level of privacy settings.
Why does this keep happening? Surely not by design on Facebook’s part. The company has been bitten enough times over the past year not to be venal without good cause. I have much less confidence in the intermediaries in the leakage, the data aggregation firm Rapleaf for example, which pled that “We didn’t do it on purpose.” Uh-huh.
Facebook is not just a social network any more. It is an entire operating system on top of which applications run. If you take it with a grain of salt and a roll of the eyes that Windows still has bugs, you should not be surprised that Facebook has bugs. And the more innovative and experimental a computer system is the more likely it is to be buggy.
Of course, any software developer does a risk-reward calculation. The people who build air traffic control systems do more careful testing (and more careful design up front) than the people who build social networking sites, because the harm to the company of a failure is lower, and the benefit to the company of a success is higher. Absent liability for privacy failures, Facebook will keep producing neat products that people love, and patching them when someone points out their problems.
Good job by the WSJ journalists, one of whom, Geoff Fowler, was a reporter for the Harvard Crimson (see this piece on diversity, for example), and also a student in my Bits course when he was an undergraduate at Harvard.