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Facebook May Be Hoarding Information About Non-Members, Keeping Secret Dossiers

Facebook users have started to get more and more concerned about the privacy of their personal data recently. Non-Facebook users might start getting worried as well. A recently filed complaint from Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner alleges that Facebook purposely uses covert methods to coax Facebook users into handing over information about their non-member friends and then hoards that information, creating dossiers on non-users.

The complaint alleges that mechanisms like syncing phone books and email contact lists, sending invitations, and even search queries are being used by Facebook to not only collect and store information about non-members, but to con members into handing it over frequently and in quantity. As “proof” the complain points out that often, non-users will get invitations listing people whom they know in real life. This kind of information, the complaint suggests, could be being used for less than legal purposes.

Facebook, of course, categorically denies these claims. Facebook Spokesman Andrew Noyes had the following to say to Fox News:

“The allegations are false. We enable you to send emails to your friends, inviting them to join Facebook. We keep the invitee’s email address and name to let you know when they join the service. This practice is common among almost all services that involve invitations — from document sharing to event planning. The assertion that Facebook is doing some sort of nefarious profiling is simply wrong.”

Facebook also denies that any information about non-members is being used to target ads or anything of that sort.

Of course, the issue here is that, regardless of what Facebook may be doing, there is already a precedent that says that this kind of non-confirmed data collection is okay, for the moment: Other sites do that exact thing. WhitePages.com, for instance, has countless people in their search, very few of which gave any sort of consent. You can probably find yourself there. The logic from this angle would be that yes, you are entitled to your privacy, but you have to opt-in to it.

There’s also the issue that this complaint comes from Ireland. Ireland and Europe at large generally have stricter privacy laws. We here in the States (the lion’s share of you, I assume) may not be entitled to the same sorts of protection. At least, we may not have a government that would so rabidly defend privacy. Whatever the case, privacy in the digital age is changing and changing fast. Something is going to give soon. Either social networking sites are going to get seriously slammed with privacy litigation and lose, or our modern day concept of what constitutes private will slowly evolve.

You can read the actual complaint here. I recommend it. It’s short and not as hard to read as you might expect.

(via Fox News)

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