Tripped up

Lovers of irony will undoubtedly be delighted to learn that Facebook's byzantine privacy settings long criticised by users and watchdogs alike resulted in a private photo taken by the sister of the social network's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, being shared publicly on Twitter. Apparently, Randi Zuckerberg had posted the picture for her friends, but it showed up on the newsfeed of someone who is friends with yet another Zuckerberg tagged in the picture. This person thought the photo of the Zuckerberg family testing out a new Facebook app, Poke, was public not an unreasonable assumption to make, given that Randi was previously head of marketing for Facebook. She posted it on Twitter, where it ended up with a far wider audience than Randi ever intended.

That even the Zuckerbergs are stymied by Facebook's privacy settings bolsters criticism levelled against the site that its oft-changed privacy controls are needlessly complex. In this instance, the privacy "breach" occurred because tagged photos are visible to the friends of every user in the photo, regardless of the privacy settings of the person uploading the picture. It is one of the many loopholes in Facebook's privacy feature that users have long asked to be plugged.

It is difficult to shake off the idea that Facebook is cavalier with consumer data. Earlier this month, Facebook subsidiary Instagram got into trouble when its updated terms of reference allowed advertisers access to users' photos without their permission. The ensuing outcry led the company to walk those changes back, but the apprehension that the website would take user data and employ it in unanticipated ways, and without explicit permission, lingers. Perhaps now that it's the Zuckerbergs who've been stung, things will change.

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