David Gelles

Facebook is tangling with regulators around the world these days, and the company’s porous privacy settings have not escaped the ire of officials in Washington, DC.

So in an effort to cope with what is sure to be more international scrutiny, Facebook has hired a White House official to work with its policy team inside the Beltway.

Marne Levine, currently chief of staff at the White House National Economic Council, will join the world’s largest social network as vice president of global public policy. In her new role, she will help build and manage policy teams in Asia, the Americas and Europe. Read more

Maija Palmer

Facebook logoGiven the recent furore over the confusing privacy controls on Facebook, you would have thought that “Quit Facebook Day”, scheduled for Monday May 31, would be proving more popular. So far fewer than 25,000 people have signed up to the site set up by two Canadian web developers, pledging to delete their accounts from the social networking site.

Given that Facebook has somewhere around 500m users, these disgruntled leavers represent a minuscule fraction - 0.00005 per cent -  probably well within the normal levels of user churn. It seems, either Facebook’s latest attempts to improve its privacy controls have reassured the general public, or the vast majority of users don’t care enough about the issue to leave the site. Read more

David Gelles

Two days after Facebook unveiled simplified privacy controls, the furore over its perceived missteps is not dying down.

On Friday Congressman John Conyers, head of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Facebook asking it to cooperate with federal regulators looking into its privacy policies. Mr Conyers also sent a similar letter to Google, which is facing scrutiny after it admitted collecting wifi data.

Mr Conyers’ letter followed a conference call on Thursday during which several privacy advocates who had given Facebook credit for their effort on Wednesday took a harder line against the company and called for federal regulation of social networking sites. Read more

Maija Palmer

Google logoGoogle doesn’t do humility very well, especially in the rarefied atmosphere of the annual Zeitgeist conference. This is generally an opportunity for high flying executives to rub shoulders with the great and good – this year’s opening keynote was by Archbishop Tutu – and spend two days congratulating themselves on their vision and innovation.

It was an uncomfortable place for Google to find itself at the centre of a privacy row over the unauthorised collection of WiFi data by its StreetView cars. Unsurprising, therefore, that the company showed little real remorse over the incident. Read more

Chris Nuttall

With behavioural targeting and privacy becoming hot internet issues, a coalition of consumer and privacy advocacy groups is taking their fight for online rights to Capitol Hill.

Their joint letter to Congress, ahead of an impending bill, warns that the “tracking and targeting of consumers online have reached alarming levels.” Read more

Joseph Menn

As Silicon Valley executives, developers and analysts absorbed Facebook’s masterstroke this week, propagating a lightweight “like” button across the internet, most were impressed–some so much that they predicted Facebook would one day overtake Google.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg appears to have learned from past mistakes and avoided setting off a massive outcry from privacy advocates. That means adoption probably will be massive.

But that likelihood is stoking a deeper current of nervousness. The thinking goes something like this: Facebook, which keeps making more user information public, is soon going to know and share a lot more about its 400m audience and where else they’ve been on the Web. Read more

David Gelles

A welcome cautionary note opened SXSWi today as Danah Boyd, a leading social media researcher, warned technologists not to disregard the users’ privacy as they build services that share ever more personal information with the public.

“No matter how many times a privileged straight white male tech executive tells you privacy is dead, don’t believe it,” she told upwards of 1,000 attendees during the opening address. “It’s not true.”

Ms Boyd focused on the recent rows around the launch of Google Buzz and Facebook’s resetting of its privacy features, citing the furore that surrounded each episode as evidence that web users are still very concerned about how much information they share with the public. Read more

Maija Palmer

Microsoft logo Why has Microsoft recently been so keen to play nicely and comply with all of the EU’s requests on antitrust and privacy?

This week the company began rolling out its “browser ballot screen” which allows European Windows users to chose which internet browser they would like to have on their computer. It marks – almost – the end of Microsoft’s long-running antitrust battle with Brussels, although the company will still be under the Commission’s scrutiny for a while to see how well the browser choice scheme works. Read more

Maija Palmer

Google logoGoogle has had several years of tussles now with privacy regulators. Three years ago European data protection commissioners began question what the company was doing with all the personal data it was gleaning from users of its search engine. In the past year, the company has faced outrage – at least in some pockets like Italy, Japan and Switzerland – over Street View, which provides panoramic, eye-level views of every street of major cities around the world.

Earlier this year, a leading privacy group called on the US Federal Trade Commission to consider shutting down Google’s web services until the company could better safeguard personal data. There have been a number of instances where Google Docs, Google Desktop and Gmail have had glitches which made users personal documents visible to others. Read more

Maija Palmer

Google logoGoogle’s European Zeitgeist event this year has been nicknamed “the Royal one” as it was attended not only by the usual business heavyweights like Vivendi’s Jean-Bernard Lévy and Richard Branson but by Prince Charles of the UK, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Prince Philip of Spain.

The presence of royalty is not as strange as it might initially seem. Much of Zeitgeist revolves around discussions on how to save the planet, and this is a project that many otherwise under-employed European royals have embraced.

Perhaps these aristocrats also see a kindred spirit in Google, the king of the internet. Oh if only it weren’t for those tedious elected governments, those dull regulations, how much easier it would be to make the world work better. Read more

Maija Palmer

Phorm logoFor a little while it looked like things were looking up for Phorm, the internet advertising technology company. There had been a year of controversy about the company’s technology which monitors internet users web surfing behaviour at the ISP level – a technique known as “deep packet inspection”, which has raised accusations of spying with some privacy activists.

But at the beginning of the year, things went quiet.  There were a few positive statements about targeted advertising from UK officials like Stephen Carter, and the company launched a trial with KT, the Korean broadband provider.

Now, suddenly, the controversy is raging again. Read more

David Gelles

Responding to concerns that it was invading users’ privacy and taking ownership of their content, Facebook will let its members choose what terms of service govern the popular social networking site.

Starting today, users will have a week to vote between two sets of documents: a revised version of the terms of use released in February that incorporates user feedback and clarifies language about Facebook’s relationship to content posted on the site, or the existing terms of use that still include controversial language. Read more

Maija Palmer


Privacy activists have had a busy few weeks. First there was Google’s announcement that it would start using behavioural targeting for its display advertising, which had them up in arms. The following week Google launched Street View, the controversial 3D mapping feature, in the UK, again drawing protest. The latest concern is over revelations that the UKgovernment is thinking of monitoring social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo as part of its anti-terrorism measures.


There is already an EU directive on monitoring emails and internet usage, requiring internet service providers to store traffic data for 12 months. Since the July 2005 the UK government has been keen to broaden the scope of the ways it can monitor for terrorists. This latest proposal is to extend this to social networking sites, which have become hugely popular after the proposals were first formulated.

  Read more

David Gelles

On Twitter, some tweets are serious leaks. Take the case of Live Search.

Rumours about Microsoft’s rebranding of Live Search, the search engine it hopes will one day rival Google, have swirled in technology circles for months.

Last weekend those rumours seemed confirmed, when published a screenshot from Twitter that appeared to be from an overenthusiastic Microsoft insider: “Played today with Live search upcoming (to be rebranded) launch pre-beta. I like the new features and UX so far.” (Today the rumours were confirmed by the company.) Read more

David Gelles

Facebook is always walking on eggshells when privacy is concerned. Last year it came under fire for storing user information after an account was deleted.  In 2007, it revised its Beacon service, which shared users’ activity on other sites with their Facebook friends. Now Facebook is facing allegations that it is trying to take ownership of users’ content.

The latest row occurred after the blog Consumerist called attention to minor but potentially wide-reaching changes to Facebook’s so-called terms of service (TOS), the set of rules users tacitly agree to when using the site. Read more

Of all the schemes Google has dreamt up over the years, Street View has got to be one of the most controversial.

For those not familiar with the idea, Google are taking photos of every street in pretty much the whole world, and integrating it with Google Maps. Naturally, several privacy groups are up in arms at the idea, even though Google have agreed to blur faces and remove people if they request it. Read more

Maija Palmer

It has been a week of regulatory decisions on internet privacy issues.

The UK’s Office of the Information Commissioner has given the go-ahead for Phorm, the targeted advertising company to start trials with BT. While the ICO statement of this is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the service, it doesn’t raise any insurmountable concerns. Phorm is still under close scrutiny, but for now, allowed to go ahead. Read more

Maija Palmer

Phorm logoAny company hoping to launch targeted advertising services should be watching the fate of UK start-up Phorm with great interest. In particular, they should take note of what this says about the public’s double standards on privacy.

Phorm is trying to build a new ad platform, serving ads targeted around users’ internet habits and interests. It is hoping to make this acceptable to the general public with reassurances that no personally identifiable information is kept or stored as part of the process. Read more