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Facebook Expands Safety & Security Tools

Just a day after security firm Sophos sent Facebook an open letteraddressing privacy issues, Facebook has introduced a suite of new safety features.

While the social network did not satisfy the letter’s requests to make privacy the default, create a vetting process for app developers and turn on HTTPS automatically, it did come through on the promises it made in an announcement at President Obama’s White House Conference on Bullying Prevention last month. Here’s what’s new:

  • Two Factor Authentication: This is a new feature that will be turned off by default. If you turn it on, Facebook will ask you to enter a code anytime you log in from a new device.
  • Improved HTTPS: Facebook added HTTPS support in January, which makes it harder for someone on a public WiFi network to hijack your data. Now if you start using a non-HTTPS application while in HTTPS mode, Facebook will automatically switch you back to HTTPS mode when you’re finished.
  • Expanded Social Reporting Tool: Facebook’s new social reporting tool brings community members into the mix when dealing with bullying or other violations of Facebook’s terms of service. The features allows users to send a private message to the person who posted the offensive content or — if they want to report the content to Facebook — to include trusted authority figures as contacts in the report. Previously, the feature was only included for photos and wall posts. Now it is available on profiles, pages and groups as well.
  • Family Safety Center redesign: Facebook’s safety center got a makeover that highlights the site’s safety philosophy, community, and tools and resources like account settings. As in the previous versions, resources for Parents, Teachers, Teens and Law Enforcement are also highlighted. Facebook wrote on its official blog that it also plans to add a free, downloadable guide for teachers who want to use social media in the classroom. Considering that most schools block Facebook on their computers, we’re curious to see what the guide suggests.

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Google Apologizes for Not Protecting User Privacy

It is now liable for independent reviews of its privacy procedures every two years for the next two decades

Last year, Google Buzz was blamed for failing to protect user data and accessing contacts books of users.

Google Appliance as shown at RSA Expo 2008 in ...

Image via Wikipedia

Google Buzz social network built inside Gmail turned out to be first ever privacy

protection horror for the company. Now, Google has finally

made peace with the Federal Trade Commission and apologized for the mistakes made with the Buzz service and ensured that the new privacy procedures would protect the interests of users. Too late for it, I suppose, as several users must have already stopped using it.

Privacy Group had filed a complaint with the FTC accusing Google for following ‘deceptive privacy practices’. The FTC stated that Google has violated the FTC Act by not informing the users about the privacy measures and didn’t offer them an option to decline or leave the social network service. Also, Google failed to obtain user’s permission to enable Buzz social network in advance.

Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC, said in the release: “This is a tough settlement that ensures that Google will honor its commitments to consumers and build strong privacy protections into all of its operations.”

Alma Whitten, Direct of Privacy (Product & Engineering) with Google, stated on its official blog:

Today, we’ve reached an agreement with the FTC to address their concerns. We’ll receive an independent review of our privacy procedures once every two years, and we’ll ask users to give us affirmative consent before we change how we share their personal information.

Google will implement a new privacy program and will also be liable for independent reviews of the privacy procedures every two years for the next two decades. WHOA! That’s a big one. So basically, Google goofed up over privacy, accepted its mistake and is now moving on.

Recently, Facebook‘s privacy debacle forced it to create a simplified privacy policy. We hope both the giants will ensure not to goof up on users privacy anymore.

Facebook Kicks Out 20,000 Underage Users Daily

Since these users are the most vulnerable to predators on Facebook and the rest of the Internet

Nearly half of all 12-year-olds in U.S. are using social network sites, despite not meeting the minimum age requirements for sites like Facebook; a report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project claims.

The report also indicates that 46 percent of 12-year-olds in U.S. use social networks, and 62 percent of 13-year-olds in the study use social networks, that figure jumps to 82 percent between the ages of 14 to 17.

But that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening; according to a report by the Daily Telegraph, Facebook is kicking out nearly 20,000 underage users per day.

Facebook’s chief privacy adviser Mozelle Thompson agreed that underage users were taking advantage of the site. This issue is due to the fact that any user can register by simply lying while signing up since most of the big networking sites had have no mechanisms to detect whether the user is telling the truth or not.  “It’s not perfect,” said Thompson.

“There are people who lie. There are people who are under 13 [accessing Facebook],” Thompson said. “Facebook removes 20,000 people a day, people who are underage.” Now, that’s just a fraction of its 600 million strong user base that Facebook has.

This month, Senator Franken stepped up pressure on the world’s largest network, with support from even more Congressional colleagues focusing on “users between 13 to 17 years of age”.”Facebook’s new privacy policy would endanger the privacy and safety of children as young as 13. Under Facebook’s policy, 13 million users under the age of 18 may be allowed to share their personal information just like adult users,” Franken argued. “These younger users are the most vulnerable to predators on Facebook and the rest of the Internet and it should be impossible for them to inadvertently share their phone numbers and home addresses with anyone.”

Facebook has set up a Facebook Public Policy and Online Safety team that looks to identify false information by users’ false, but verifying a person’s age seems close to impossible. A member of the team tells the News Observer that parent participation is really the key to the problem of underage users on the site. But what if the parents aren’t opposed to their children being on Facebook? Talking about safe Internet practices with kids might be the next best responsible thing to do, along with monitoring your child’s online activity.

But I believe it’s the parents who should own up the responsibility for what their children do on the Internet. I could give many analogies to put my point across, but I believe people are smart enough to understand the seriousness of this issue. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if more than 50 percent of underage kids from India [who have Internet access] are more active than most adults on Facebook.

How many parents even know that users need to be 13-and above to own a legitimate Facebook account? Will you do something to stop this scenario or just turn a deaf ear to it? Leave us a comment and let us know.

Facebook Simplifies Privacy Policy

Keeps users in the loop with the privacy policy draft

Facebook has received much bad press in the past, and that prompted a privacy setting update virtually after every other week from the social networking giant. With almost everyone with access to the Internet having a Facebook account, privacy has been a contentious issue for both Facebook and those affected by it. The social networking website has therefore taken another proactive step by making the early draft of a revamped privacy policy public. In case you’re wondering, that’s the deliberately confusing legalese part that you’re supposed to acknowledge before you can join, create an account or install a program.

While the updated policy does not change Facebook’s existing methods of harvesting user information, it makes the whole process more transparent and easy to understand. This move comes after Facebook itself admitted that its existing privacy policy is “longer than the U.S. constitution – without the amendments”. The new draft is shorter and, more importantly, easier to understand, with headings like “your information and how it is used,” and “how advertising works,” which make the process clear to a layman.

However, there is still a grey area in how Facebook defines “your information”, which Nicole Ozer, a policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, contends does not include user data like the IP addresses, triangulated location of a mobile phone, and the date and time stamp of the uploaded photographs. Despite the downers and ambiguity of the definition of user information, this is a step in the right direction. It’s not often that a big corporation simplifies the legalese and keeps the users in the loop before making a decision.

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