New Facebook Policies Sell Your Face And Whatever It Infers
It’s Facebook FB +0.06% policy update time again. This time, Zuckerberg and Co. have doubled down on plain-spoken liability dodging and released redlines showing tracked changes for their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and their Data Use Policy. The public is invited to comment over the coming week (which includes a holiday weekend!). Beyond a lot of changes that reflect the increased importance of the mobile aspect of Facebook, the emphasis of the revisions seem designed to clearly articulate what the social network is already doing, rather than staking new claims to your identity.
The big news here is that Facebook has completely excised every mention of “Sponsored Stories” in these two documents, yet the concept clearly lives on. Here are the most interesting changes (new language is bolded):
We only provide data to our advertising partners or customers after we have removed your name or any other personally identifying information from it, or have combined it with other people’s data in a way that it no longer personally identifies you.
This may seem like a minor change in semantics, but the implication is that Facebook provides data about users to advertisers that may be stripped of personal identity, but that can none the less beassociated with that user in a persistant manner. If Facebook sells a profile for “Mr. X” to an advertiser, does it matter that my name or street address is not included if everything else about me is? They don’t have to know where I live in the physical world to know where I live online.
It’s hard to exactly square the circle of that distinction with the fact that Facebook also lets advertisers associate data they already have about you with data from Facebook:
We also allow advertisers to reach people on Facebook using the information they already haveabout you (such as email addresses or whether you have visited their websites previously).
Furthermore, Facebook has expanded its claims for automating the tagging your profile pictures based on other data sources:
We are able to suggest that your friend tag you in a picture by scanning and comparing your friend’s pictures to information we’ve put together from your profile pictures and the other photos in which you’ve been tagged.
What I found most suggestive of the future expansion of Facebook’s powers was a seeming innocuous addition. At the end of the section that reads, “So we can show you content that you may find interesting, we may use all of the information we receive about you to serve ads that are more relevant to you. For example, this includes:
Talk about an open-ended statement! This would imply to me that Facebook is on its way to becoming a powerful inference engine capable of increasingly personalized advertising recommendations. When you combine these two features—automated facial recognition and algorithmic inference—you get some incredibly powerful but disquieting possibilities.
Already, there have been cases where Facebook has outed gay people through inference-based ad selection. The same capabilities that power facial recognition could also power facial inference. Do users realize that now, or at some point in the future, Facebook could profile them racially, guess at their intelligence, judge their attractiveness or even diagnosis certain medical conditions without being supplied any specific verbal data? All of this by merely giving facebook our… face.
What these new terms of service do for Facebook is to give them carte blancheto guess at the details of our identities that we have not specifically disclosed and target marketing to us based on their guesses. In the mirror world of big data, these hunches are as real as anything else. And indeed, in order to monetize a massive free service like Facebook, this is exactly the kind of thing they have to do. But for Facebook’s users it is looking less and less like a freeservice.
Original article from Forbes