back to article Facebook's critics 'unrealistic', says US privacy law expert

The expectations and demands of privacy activists are unrealistic and uncommercial, according to one of America's top privacy law academics. Lobbyists for privacy rights should be more pragmatic and cooperate with companies, he said. Privacy advocates this week wrote to social networking giant Facebook in the latest of a long …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    How refreshing...

    Somewhat surprisingly for a lawyer this man actually speaks sense.

    I would agree with his observation that "opt-in" is a waste of time. How many sites have you signed up to recently (that you wanted content on), and have blindly ticked the check box to agree their "terms & conditions" regardless of what they actually are. We just do it. So in reality this type of protection is no protection at all.

    Much more sensible to set limits on how long they can keep data at all.

    1. John Lilburne

      bejeezus skip

      I have a number of SN type accounts some I visit more regularly than others, the issue is that when they introduce a new feature they opt you in to it by default. That means that in order to keep your personal data safe you have to be constantly monitoring what is the arsewipes are up to.

      Example flickr decided to add a feature where you can add your email address book to the site and it tells you who has accounts. I don't actually want every one that has my email address to get access to my flickr acount. So that meant that I had to change the associated email to something specific to flickr.

      that is the problem you think that your personal data is safe and then they add a feature which leaks it out all over the place.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        RE: bejeezus skip

        "... the issue is that when they introduce a new feature they opt you in to it by default. That means that in order to keep your personal data safe you have to be constantly monitoring what is the arsewipes are up to."

        They tend to email you, letting you know about changes so you don't need "constant monitoring". They're also unlikely to let too much private information slip out incase they get legally screwed so there are only certain things that they CAN opt you into by default.

        1. Tuomas Hosia

          Data exist for making profit, that's reality for you.

          "They tend to email you, letting you know about changes so you don't need "constant monitoring".

          Yes, spam and such, _not_ about privacy policy changes. That'll the last thing they do because most companies in this are frankly lives by selling customer data. Illegally or not, they care as much about is Google's CEO, ie. not at all.

          "They're also unlikely to let too much private information slip out incase they get legally screwed... "

          "Unlikely"? In what reality?

          Any company can sell whatever they want and not even get a slap on the wrist for doing that. _If_ they get caught.

          That's current reality and it's called capitalism: "If there's profit in there, do it and don't get caught."

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Bloody academics. Get a job.

    If Professor Whoever lived on this planet he'd be fully aware of how his 'suggestion' has already been treated in practice - e.g. how Google issued repeated undertakings to anonymize user data within a timeframe, and then repeatedly and deliberately didn't do it properly.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      RE: Bloody academics. Get a job.

      WTF have Google's problems got to do with Facebook?

  3. David Perry 2

    Pay attention google?

    If advertisers are only analysing data a month or less old, I'd be interested to see google themselves justify keeping it for much longer than that period. Sure I'm missing something here, but surely a point to think about.

  4. Paul Shirley

    do privacy right or stop trying to make a buck from it

    If rigorous privacy control is 'uncommercial' then commercial entities should get the hell out of the business. Their right to make a buck comes a poor second to my human rights and outside the idiotically corporate US it usually does.

  5. James O'Shea
    Big Brother

    forced opt-in?

    There are quite a few sites which which demand 'registration'. My usual response to such a demand is to sign in using '' or ''. If those are rejected or if they say that they need a valid email address, I go elsewhere. Should sites start to demand that I 'opt-in' in order to see their content, they'd better be very, very, VERY sure that I _NEED_ to see their content for a real reason. If I merely _want_ to see their content or if I'm just curious about something, I'll be going elsewhere. I _used_ to frequently visit a certain news site, which started to require 'opt-in' nonsense. (That would be the New York Times; they want 'registration' to see some, but not all, articles. After I encountered the 'read the first few paragraphs, find out the rest is behind a paywall' problem once too often, I bailed, haven't been back there in years. Every now and again I get email from them about the wonders of their site; I add the new address to my spam filter. I understand that they have removed most requirements for paying from their site, but they still want you to 'register'. They can still bite me.

    _I_ chose what I view. _Me_. That's one reason why I use AdBlock. It's one reason why I simply don't go near certain sites. I don't have a page at FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, or similar sites because of their policies. I don't visit certain commercial sites because of their policies. I have not noticed that my life is diminished.

    1. Doshu


      Well put.

      Some might ask:

      "So what happens if EVERY site demands opt-in? Are you going to stop using the internet?".

      The answer is simple:

      Where there's demand, there's business opportunities, thus services. There will always be people who refuse all this opt-in bullshit, so there will always be someone to cater to their needs -- and you can bet they'll find a way to make money off it, too.

      It's just the nature of things, imho.

    2. Jean-Luc

      slightly different take

      I sign up to all those sites using a specific gmail account that is pretty junk and only forwards some stuff to my real email account. I initially signed up to FB using this junk email, but then realized that I was missing out on the "find friends" features, so I changed it to my real email. I figured the risk wasn't that big. It certainly isn't as far as my personal info on FB goes - address data = city only, fake date of birth and no tel #. Friends only view settings throughout. No third party FB application access whatsoever.

      AdBlock - check. Ditto Noscript.

      Basically, I can live w. FB as is.

      Far as NY Times goes, its paywall inconsistency as you noted means I never even bothered to sign up, or if I have I forgot about it and just avoid the site altogether. I am sure I am missing something, but... I don't care. But you can't fault them for trying to make a $ on their subscriptions. They should have it as free browsing or paywall, not registration or paywall, IMHO.

    3. Wallyb132
      Thumb Up

      I'm with you 100%

      Your comments are so dead on, i couldnt have said it better. I dont have accounts at facebook, twitter, myspace, or any other soul sucking privacy vacuum.

      i dont do opt-in by proxy / stealth / confusion or any other means other than the good old fashion check this (empty) box if you'd like to... I even get frustrated when they give you the option but the box is prechecked like i'm jumping for joy to hand anything over to these people...

      I refuse to pay for news, period, end of story, outside of investigative reporting, news reporting isnt original, its just simply writing about and broadcasting the actions of other people, nothing worth payment there, especially considering its almost impossible to find un-bias un-opinionated news, I'm not going to pay some asshole for reporting news thats slanted to fit an agenda, period. Most major news outfits dont know the meaning of honest reporting, i've seen all to many times news agencies make mistakes in their reporting and then refuse to run a correction when they find out they reported false facts because the truth doesnt fit their agenda. despite the fact that their misreporting maybe harming someones life.

      An example of big news misreporting, though it wasnt harmful to his life, a good example is Rodney King and the famed Rodney King beatings at the hands of LAPD in 1991, everything to do with that situation is all well and good, but his name ISNT Rodney, its Glenn, Glenn King, talk about stereotyping, sheesh just because hes black all of a sudden he's gotta be Rodney? Seriously... Big news was made aware of this but refused to correct it... With that attitude i fuck em, they dont need my money...

      As for the email address thing, i run my own mail server, so i get to have all kinds of fun with email addresses, my favorite one i love to give out to sites that "require" i give them an address is "gofuckyourself@******.com" and i have a catchall box set up so i can customize on the fly with things like fuckyouapple@********.com, i especially like when websites claim they dont sell email addresses so i give them something like hulu_sucks_donkey_balls@*******.com, then a week later i'm getting mad spam from random source unrelated to hulu with emails addressed to hello hulu_sucks_donkey_balls... I love it...

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Thumb Up



    4. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Forced opt-in means collecting garbage

      You perfectly illustrate something that anyone with half a brain would know already: as soon as you force people to something you will end up with garbage data.

      They want real addresses? Easy - they will either get their own address or one of the competition. Or of a politician. Ditto with phone numbers - call centers are very handy resources for that :-). Email address? Sure, plenty of spam killers around.

      It would be fun to run a campaign that would make all those tricks really widely known, because you cannot protect against them - it would force opt-in a lot faster than any law.

      Quite simply, PRIVACY IS A RIGHT, not an inconvenience. And it's open season any anyone and any company who doesn't respect that. You want my business/money - then respect my rights.

  6. Dazed and Confused

    Not in their commercial interest

    So we can't have privacy because its not in Facebooks commercial interest.

    I don't suppose that car makers think that safety is in their commercial interest either but it doesn't stop their being laws about it.

  7. Tom 13

    This twit passes for a privacy expert?

    I don't give a damn how long an advertising company is permitted to keep my information. I want opt-in so it doesn't just get handed over to them in the first place. I don't want it handed over in the first place because I know the advertising companies don't give a damn about how long the law says they are allowed to keep my info. In fact the only people who give less of a damn are the lawyers who will only be too happy to file a class action lawsuit on my behalf (one that lines their pockets and leaves me with a $5 off coupon for the advertiser's services/products).

    1. Anonymous Coward

      RE: This twit passes for a privacy expert?

      It's called damage limitation, idiot.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    A very corporate American outlook

    ... to clearly and unequivocally state that privacy laws should not only be a function of your basic human rights, but also of commercial prospect.

    I can only wonder at where Doktor Hoofnagle would draw the line: Google über alles?

  9. Tom 7

    So Facebook can find a working business model

    so we have to run around naked?

    This privacy expert ranks along side the doctors who knew about fags and cancer but advertised it as safe anyway.

    Gits like this make BP's chair look reasonable and the US congress even more so!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Tom 7

      "This privacy expert ranks along side the doctors who knew about fags and cancer but advertised it as safe anyway."

      Did you read the article?

      He's very keen on privacy, he's an expert in the field and he's saying that there are only so many things we can do.

      The "data portability" issue for example.

  10. Andy Hards

    This man might be talking out of his ass

    but HOOFNAGLE? that has to be the best name in the world!

    1. Jimbo 6

      I immediately thought of...

      ...the Troy McClure film, "The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagle"

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If the critics' points are fair ones, then if they really are unrealistic, doesn't that imply that Facebook doesn't have a business proposition in the first place ? It's no good saying, "We can't do what's right, so you'll just have to put up with us doing wrong".

  12. Thomas 18


    Number 6 on the wish list: a data export system for transferring everything you have uploaded over to a new social network is pure fantasy. Not even remotely technically feasible at the moment.

  13. The Indomitable Gall


    My business, McKill and McCrazy Hitmen Ltd, is currently under investigation for certain illegal activities. I keep telling the Chief Inspector that his "laws" are all well and good, but they are completely uncommercial -- if I complied with these laws, my business would be unable to operate.

    Does he listen?

    No. Bloody plods.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just who do these people think they are?

    It's not unrealistic for me to want to keep my data private.

    It's unrealistic for these companies to think they can gather what ever information they want, legally or not. Just so they can try to flog even more shit.

    I never buy any product which has been shoved down my throught. I can see through the advertisers like glass. It's wrong, tho most people (esp iClones) are not intelligent enough to see it, or even be aware just how much private information about them is collected.

    If I want a product, i'll go out and buy it. I dont' need some advertiser telling me about it and I certainly dont need to follow the crowd.

    I value my individuality and my privacy.

  15. neverSteady

    Advertisers should perhaps change their business model?

    If the only way to do business is to spy on customers, then I don't want to do business with them.

    Advertising is bunk anyway, it's going the way of the dinosaur.

  16. Graham Marsden

    And after three months...

    ... the companies delete your data, but just before they do, they exercise their right to sell it to another company (which, of course, you had to agree with when you registered) and the fact that they own that company and still have full access to your data is a mere irrelevancy, isn't it...?

  17. LaeMing

    Tit for tat

    If these companies want me to support their interests, then maybe they should look into helping support mine in turn. I'm not a charity organisation, ya know!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    who do the lawyers and politicians work for?

    I, not unreasonably (I feel) expect politicians and civil liberty lawyers and academics to be on the side of the angels. It may be difficult, indeed costly, for commercial enterprises to protect information but I want them to work from the basis that that is were they start from. If, over time, things change then they can work with that. If you start with low hurdles then they will only get lower in a commercial environment. Frankly, don't really give a shit if it hurts their bottom line. My/our privacy is more important than their profits and I don't have much, if anything, to hide.

  19. Gannon (J.) Dick

    Thank You

    @Ladies, Gentlemen and a few Anonymous Cowards

    You have make my day.

    Hoofnagle's thesis is a bit like Neil Armstrong saying the Earth is Flat, because it looks that way from the Moon.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Gannon (J.) Dick

      Your statement is nonsense. It's a bit like saying the Earth is triangluar because you say it is.

      Hoofnagle's thesis (if you'd care to read it) makes a lot of sense.

      Of course, it could be that a lot of the commenters here are of the Daily Mail variety who will take up arms against whichever cause they think El Reg is bashing. I wouldn't like to comment.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Jail these thieves

        "Hoofnagle's thesis (if you'd care to read it) makes a lot of sense."

        Yes, if you are corporate owner and your bussiness is to sell others privacy. Yeat another corporate drone parroting 'consumers must have no rights, it hurts the bussiness!'.

        These people belong to jail if any. Actually worse than drug dealers, because these are dishonest and criminals while dealers are honest criminals or they get shot or lose customers. Obviously that doesn't apply to lawyers.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    It's not as bad as people are saying.

    I think the main problem here is that everyone is running around shouting "wolf!" when really there isn't one.

    "The privacy advocates have been less than pragmatic on these issues and they're calling for interventions that I don't think will protect privacy," he said, speaking of criticisms expressed by various organisations in recent months.

    Ask a privacy expert and he'll probably have a well thought out and considered view point.

    Ask a panicking headless chicken however and they'll say "cluck, cluck, whatever everyone else says, cluck".

    I've had a MySpace account for a decade and a Facebook account for a number of years. I've never had any spam that I can think of that was related to either of them (I know which accounts I signed up with). As I chose straight away to keep most of my details private, except with friends, I'm fairly certain these details are still mine as this part of Facebook hasn't changed at all...

    So, not a lot to see here.

    The only privacy problem I can see is some changes Facebook made a few months ago - old news!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Corporate shills

      "Ask a privacy expert and he'll probably have a well thought out and considered view point."

      An opinion he got paid good money for. By the same corporations who breach privacy in the first place, ie. the criminals.

      Another corporate drone.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Ads on Facebook?

    I haven't seen an ad on Facebook for years, not since I blocked that entire panel on the right hand side (and also told all my friends how to do the same). I wonder if Facebook realizes just how many tech savvy people don't actually all those ads.

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