The ACLU: One of Facebook’s Best Frienemies

In the wake of Instant Personalization, Timeline, and Open Graph, it’s not a stretch to say that Facebook has a history of pushing the privacy boundaries… at least until someone pushes back.

In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission pushed back in its settlement, requiring Facebook to “respect the privacy wishes of its users and subjects [Facebook] to regular privacy audits for the next 20 years.” The New York Times commented that the FTC’s involvement essentially introduced “friction” to Facebook’s frictionless sharing, but in no way was it the end to Facebook’s skirmishes with privacy. In fact, if Facebook only had its eye on resistance from government agencies, it might make the mistake of overlooking a powerful opponent in the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to their website, the ACLU is an organization that works within the court system to preserve the constitutional “individual rights and liberties” guaranteed to every American citizen. With Facebook and privacy continuing to be at odds, it’s an easy fit for the ACLU, and as a result, the organization has consistently found itself representing complainants in many Facebook privacy cases.

Even back in 2009, the ACLU was very concerned about the information that users put on Facebook. The ACLU called Facebook’s restrictions on data collection by application developers “simply inadequate.” Their concern was that application developers could create something as innocuous as a Facebook Quiz and then use that to get access to a user’s information which could then be packaged, sold, or even turned over to the authorities.

While this concern is present today, what is more pressing to the ACLU is the increasing instances of authoritative organizations pressuring individuals to turn over their Facebook account information and passwords.

In 2010, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services asked a former employee for his Facebook account information and password after the employee sought to reestablish his employment. Supposedly, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was looking for any “gang affiliations” the former employee might have, but the ACLU called such actions “appalling.”

There has also recently been a case where a student was forced to give school officials her Facebook password, because she was accused of having an inappropriate conversation with another student on Facebook. The ACLU is currently representing the student in a lawsuit against the school.

Facebook’s response to this new trend has been swift. It is now a violation of Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to share or solicit a Facebook password. The ACLU now has a partner in its lobby for congress to pass legislation ensuring protection of passwords from employers, schools, government, law enforcement, and any other organization in a position to request such information.

So, in this instance, Facebook and ACLU find themselves strange bedfellows, because if there’s something Facebook can’t stand it’s someone other than Facebook violating its users’ privacy.

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