Monday, June 13, 2011

Facebook Admits Introducing New Status Update Feature, Incurs More Privacy Complaints

MENLO PARK, Calif. -- As Facebook prepares itself for a long-awaited and seemingly inevitable IPO, Internet ethics groups continue to hound the social networking giant with accusations of invasive and deceptive “privacy” policies. In December, Facebook announced plans for facial-recognition technology designed to simplify the process of tagging friends in photos. Facebook said the enhancement would perform a comparative analysis of images and then automate tagging suggestions. But a coalition of activists that includes the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, arguing that the facial-recognition software is “unfair and deceptive.”

A media representative from Facebook said, “If they think that’s bad, wait until they get a load of our new Status Personalization and Information Edification System. And the best part: there’s so need to activate it, it’s already there.”

Ongoing Privacy Concerns
Last week, echoing the concerns of privacy advocates, security firm Sophos complained that Facebook’s facial recognition function had been turned on by default.

“As with every other invasion of privacy concocted by Zuckerberg and friends,” a Sophos spokesperson explained, “users must go in and disable the service if they don’t want it automatically tagging them in other people’s photos. So not only is the process manual and cumbersome, users must first be aware that the damn thing exists. What are the chances of that? To make matters worse, Facebook is threatening to bury the ‘Settings’ link even deeper in the tiered ‘Account’ menu. I’m surprised they don’t just delete it or rename it something in Swahili.”

Responding to the criticisms, Facebook directed users to its now permanent and retroactive apology page, which universally acknowledges that the company should be more communicative about all new services it introduces:

We should have been more clear with people during the roll-out process when this [fill in the service] became available.

Facebook Admits to Another Controversial Default Feature
Caving to increased pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, which reprimanded Facebook after receiving numerous complaints from startled users on Monday, the company admitted to launching its new Status Personalization and Information Edification System (SPIES) without an official announcement to users.

“Yes, we deployed SPIES last week and failed to provide what the government deems ‘adequate’ notification,” said Crofton Ashniks, an electronic rights consultant working with Facebook. “However, we are completely surprised by the backlash from users. With the simplicity and unparalleled level of personalization SPIES offers, we can’t understand why so many people are upset. This was supposed to make social networking easier. And it does.”

As part of SPIES’ functionality, Facebook users are assigned a personal “Updater” who follows them everywhere they go, monitoring their actions and recording all the details of their daily goings on directly into their profile pages.

“Updaters aren’t just passive observers,” Ashniks said. “They take photos of you, interface with the people you’ve just spoken to, and, when they can, attempt to interview you directly about how you feel, what your mood’s like, and so on. They can even tell you what your friends just posted on their walls. It’s mobile, it’s 24/7, and if you don’t have access to the Internet where you are, no problem. The Updaters do.”

Unfortunately for Facebook, unwitting “beta users” became frightened when they noticed strange people shadowing their movements. As a result, nearly every Updater was reported to the police for stalking.

“The reaction from users was ridiculous and overblown,” Ashniks lamented. “We’ve saved these people countless hours of manually inputting photos and status updates and connecting with new friends. Plus, we’ve gotten a lot of unemployed Americans back to work. In order to really drive the success of the SPIES solution, we hired discharged census takers. The side benefit is that Updaters are matched to users personally: we find the actual workers who surveyed them during the last census. So, your Updater already has tons of personal information about you. We also pay to obtain your public records, which we hand over to the Updaters along with all of your existing Facebook information. These people probably know you better than the government or your own parents. The process becomes more intuitive, more customized and less labor intensive for you.”

Ashniks said that Facebook has no plans to shutter the SPIES program, especially after spending millions in data retrieval, hiring initiatives, posting bail and related legal fees.

“If, for some reason beyond my comprehension, users don’t want to participate in the SPIES program, we simply ask that they change their privacy settings instead of having the Updaters arrested,” Ashniks appealed to the Facebook community. “Sure, calling the cops takes only a few seconds, but it’s a strain on every city’s limited resources. Deactivating SPIES can be accomplished in less than 30 minutes through the Account menu. So please, use the system as it was intended.”

(c) 2011. All stories are works of satire and parody.

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