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Today, Facebook updated its privacy rules, primarily through an extensive re-write intended to make the company's data policy comprehensible for those of us who aren't lawyers. In other words, while the substance remains largely the same, the presentation has been given a considerable makeover: the new policy is considerably shorter, written in English rather than legalese, and reformatted (more space and color) for an easier reading experience.
“Our goal is to make the information about Facebook as clear as possible,” Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, told The Wall Street Journal. “Our hope is that it won’t take long for people to read through this and really get it."
On the surface, Facebook's update comes at a fortuitous time. Yesterday, a new survey by the Pew Research Center found that a whopping 91 percent of Americans feel like they've lost control over the way their personal data is collected and used; meanwhile, 81 percent don't feel safe sharing private information over a social network.
Facebook's new policies are easier to understand, which is a good thing. However, the updated rules do little to give users more control over the way Facebook uses their personal data to sell targeted ads. (Under the section 'Your information and advertising,' the company writes: "Nothing is changing with these updates -- we help advertisers reach people with relevant ads without telling them who you are.")
Facebook still reserves the right to track anything you do on its site, and use it to sell ads. Unless you explicitly opt-out of off-network tracking (which requires a visit to a third party website), it will also follow you to other websites, where it collects and analyzes your actions, again, to sell targeted ads. In addition, this October the social network began allowing marketers to target users based on their specific coordinates i.e. those who lived near, or had passed by a business. How? Facebook's terms of agreement state that it can collect local information on its mobile apps.
Despite (or more likely, because of) its simplified language and helpful explain-y graphics, Facebook's updated policy will likely do nothing to allay Americans fears that "they've lost control over the way their personal data is collected and used."
Of course, that doesn't mean Americans will ditch Facebook. We may not like it, but most of us understand that the company exists to collect our personal information and turn it into advertising money. We pay for the convenience of using the service – to stay in touch with friends, keep tabs on family members, stalk exes – by forfeiting control of the way the social network collects and uses our personal data.
The Pew survey backs this up. For more than half of us, convenience trumps privacy: Fifty-five percent of respondents surveyed said they would share information with companies in order to use online services for free.