As it continues to climb out of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and overcome another round of privacy concerns, Facebook today proposed clearer versions of both its terms of service and data policy. “It’s important to show people in black and white how our products work,” the company said by way of a blog post co-authored by Erin Egan (VP and chief privacy officer) and Ashlie Beringer (VP and deputy general counsel). “These updates are about making things clearer. We’re not asking for new rights to collect, use or share your data on Facebook. We’re also not changing any of the privacy choices you’ve made in the past.”
For now these remain proposals, because Facebook is giving members on the social network seven days to provide feedback before it finalizes the new language and asks users to agree to the updated terms / data privacy. It’s possible updates and changes will be made between now and then.
A week ago, Egan and Beringer revealed that Facebook would be overhauling and streamlining the app’s controls to make settings easier to find, saying “instead of having settings spread across nearly 20 different screens, they’re now accessible from a single place.” A new Privacy Shortcuts menu is also coming, and Facebook has introduced a central “Access Your Information” portal where users will be able to review and manage their data on the social network.
As it takes numerous steps to calm the uproar and another instance of lost trust stemming from the Cambridge Analytica situation, Facebook also ran into another minor controversy this week after CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein. During their conversation, Zuckerberg mentioned a situation where Facebook had prevented messages on Facebook Messenger about ethnic cleansing in Myanmar from successfully going through. “In that case, our systems detect what’s going on,” Zuckerberg told Klein. That led to questions about the extent to which Facebook monitors its messaging platform and concern about yet more privacy intrusions.
The short of it is this: Facebook scans your Messenger conversations for certain prohibited content. It’s been doing so for quite some time, but it doesn’t use any data gleaned from those scans for ad targeting or other purposes.
“On Messenger, when you send a photo, our automated systems scan it using photo matching technology to detect known child exploitation imagery or when you send a link, we scan it for malware or viruses,” a Facebook Messenger spokesperson told Bloomberg. “Facebook designed these automated tools so we can rapidly stop abusive behavior on our platform.”
Back to today’s proposed changes. One of Facebook’s objectives with the new language is to make it plainly clear to everyone — in case it wasn’t already — that Messenger, WhatsApp, Oculus, Instagram, all abide by the same data policy. Here’s the list of simplified and updated language that users will see in the new terms and policy:
New features and tools: We’re providing information on recently introduced features. Since we last updated our terms or data policy three years ago, you can now buy and sell items on Marketplace, start a fundraiser for a cause you care about, share Live and 360 video, and add creative effects to your photos.
Personalized experience: Everyone’s experience on Facebook is unique, and we’re providing more information on how this works. We explain how we use data and why it’s needed to customize the posts and ads you see, as well as the Groups, friends and Pages we suggest.
What we share: We will never sell your information to anyone. We have a responsibility to keep people’s information safe and secure, and we impose strict restrictions on how our partners can use and disclose data. We explain all of the circumstances where we share information and make our commitments to people more clear.
Advertising: You have control over the ads you see, and we don’t share your information with advertisers. Our data policy explains more about how we decide which ads to show you.
One company: Facebook is part of the same company as WhatsApp and Oculus, and we explain how we share services, infrastructure and information. We also make clear that Facebook is the corporate entity that provides the Messenger and Instagram services, which now all use the same data policy. Your experience isn’t changing with any of these products.
Device information: People have asked to see all the information we collect from the devices they use and whether we respect the settings on your mobile device (the short answer: we do). We’ve also added more specific information about the information we collect when you sync your contacts from some of our products, including call and SMS history, which people have recently asked about.
Addressing harmful behavior: We better explain how we combat abuse and investigate suspicious activity, including by analyzing the content people share.
Zuckerberg is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11th, where he’ll answer questions about Facebook’s use of and protections for user data.