Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?

Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?

Summary: Facebook's announcement today described the new consolidated messaging platform. With everything being recorded 'for your own benefit', has Facebook become the Big Brother of social networks?


Facebook's announcement today is "not designed [to be] an email killer", as described by CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier this morning.

It's not email as such; it's more of a way to expand the existing messaging system and to consolidate your communications on the social network. Facebook is not becoming an email server in that all your existing Gmail or Hotmail goes through the site, though.

It does add more lines of communication in and out of the site, in form of your own dedicated @facebook.com email address - your existing username, to allow greater freedom whilst amalgamating the existing chat and SMS messaging all into one place.


But as more people will be tempted by the new inbox feature that has just been announced, the more data Facebook has of you where otherwise they might not have. And with this comes even higher risk that your consolidated social lives are at further risk from the counter-privacy brigade.

Gallery To see the updated Messages unified inbox, including screenshots of how to get it working and how it operates, head on over to the gallery.

The higher they get, the harder they fall. And if Facebook were to fall, so would every one of its 500 million-plus users.

Instead of going out on a rant as I normally do about privacy and Facebook, and slamming them together to create the anti-Christ of the web, I won't bother. It's something I have covered far too many times before, as too has every other technology journalist on the planet. So by all means read some previous evidence of Facebook's misdemeanour's:

Now they are branching out to email, essentially; in that you will be able to send email to another Facebook user and it appears within the site, and receive email from another Facebook user.

An argument between what is more personal for the user ranges on: the email inbox or the social network? Ultimately it doesn't matter, because regardless of either of these being breached is the possibility that some varying degree of breach will cause you to suffer either personally or professionally.

I, for one will not be using Facebook's new consolidated system where possible, and will be disabling it as soon as I am able to. Because of the large amount of personal data that I inadvertently submitted to Facebook over the years, starting back in 2006 before I started to write here, I am already in too deep. I put this down to, what my colleague Ed Bott describes as "youthful folly".

But once I realised the breadth of the potential for information abuse, I restricted the latest and greatest features which many ranted and raved about. All it now takes is one breach of my password and I am ripped open to the potential for huge abuse.

Update: The Guardian has a few thoughts for how the new Messages application could be used for cybercriminals. It offers a few scenarios which are not impossible which could allow abuse and spam to filter through. However there are some good bits to take into account also, but I suspect real-world trailing and testing will weed out the worst problems.

This will be no different, and I shall keep my social network limited internally as much as I can, regardless of how amazing this feature may or may not turn out to be.

Will you be using this new email inbox? Are you concerned about Facebook's privacy management and track record? Have your say.

Topics: Collaboration, Legal, Security, Social Enterprise

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  • RE: Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?

    I'm going to give it a try, if it's reasonable I'll probably keep it, otherwise I'll disable it.

    I do have some personal and professional information on my FB account, but it's generally locked down to only people in my Friends list (which I keep small) and I don't install FB apps, so the exposure should be reasonably limited.
  • RE: Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?

    I love the Enron-parody logo!
    • RE: Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?

      @cpabob94 I was hoping someone would appreciate it... :)
  • The sky is falling...

    I keep reading how I should avoid pretty much everything on the internet because every detail of my life is going to somehow get stolen, all my data will wind up in the hands of criminals and oh, woe will be me. It seems that the more popular a product or service becomes, the more inherently dangerous it is. Between Windows, Google, Facebook, the iPhone and Android we're all doomed. We are all just too inherently stupid to show a little restraint on what information we divulge online. That seems to be the gist, anyway. After all, if a ZDNet blogger "inadvertently submitted" too much information to Facebook over the years, what hope do we mere mortals have? I suppose I should just crawl into a hole and wait for the inevitable crash since I have used most of the products and services that seem to have been designed for the sole purpose of bringing down humanity.
    • Not everything is designed that way


      Microsoft designed controls into Windows to require that users acknowledge information collection, and opt-out if they want. Facebook and Google's services have no such option, according to their terms of use and/or privacy policies. I don't trust Android, coming from Google - a company that builds its revenue on taking your personal information and selling ads (every product or service is just a collection agent for your info). The iPhone has no section about privacy in its terms of use, and you don't really agree to any real ToS when initializing the device aside from maybe the iTunes EULA when doing that first required sync.
      • Bottom line...

        If you want guaranteed security, turn your computer off and leave it off. "Microsoft designed controls into Windows to require that users acknowledge information collection." You know Microsoft owns Hotmail, right? This is the same Hotmail that had 10,000 stolen passwords floating out there on the inernet, 6% of which were a mix of upper case, lower case and special characters. No, Microsoft is no more or less secure than any other vendor on the market.
      • @jason

        Twisting my story around:

        Hotmail doesn't just give out passwords. They have breaches in security, but are not defective by design. There's a HUGE difference there. The fact that they were STOLEN just proves my point. User information doesn't have to be stolen for it to fall from Google or Facebooks hands into that of third parties - it's the main pillar of their business practise.

        Also, we could talk about eBuddy up and down too. eBuddy steals passwords daily from consumers and sells them to spammers. Users give them their user accounts up-front without knowing what is being done with them, but every person on my WLM contact list that gave eBuddy a login to connect to Messenger on their iPhone or such, EVERY SINGLE ONE is sending me spam via the same address. That's not Hotmail's fault either, since customers give out their login information willingly.

        Ditto for Incredimail.
    • RE: Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?

      @jasonp@... Well, yeah, maybe?
  • This guy gets it right...

    "We are its product, not its customer"


    Advertisers, information collection agencies, and even spammers are the real customers. They are the ones that pay money.

    Users of Facebook are its vendors, and the product is your personal information. Users just don't get any money for it.

    Facebook is just Classmates v2.0.
  • Facebook & E-Mail... Hmmm...

    I honestly don't know what I think of this development...

    The addition of email has all the potential to propel Facebook into a new league, but I am sure I am not alone in saying that I, personally, have reservations and cannot see myself making any drastic changes in the foreseeable future. Now don't get me wrong... although Facebook has many detractors, there are many more that will happily use this new service without a second thought. I may not be a fan of Facebook, HOWEVER... I am not ashamed to admit that I use Facebook on an virtually DAILY basis ? It useful.

    ?Facebook the Company? has its faults, not least its attitude to the privacy of it?s users, however many improvements they may have made to the minutia of the web interface and their terms and conditions. I have followed these and other issues as they have developed right here on ZDNet. In addition I am an advocate in my efforts to educate my friends and family of the privacy risks (with varying success...)

    The addition of email has the potential to bring a new dimension to how we all use Facebook, but, it is the implementation that will make the difference to whether or not it takes off outside the existing community and truly benefit ?Facebook the Company?. Key to me is Facebook proving itself to have a socially responsible and upright attitude to security and it?s UELA (I wait in realistic but openly inspirational hope). In my eyes, it is their only way forward from here if they want to win the serious attention of the email community (Including the many Gmail, Yahoo and other users out there like you and me).

    Facebook is an enigma to me. On so many levels I hate it, but I am unable to ignore the fact that the service it provides is incredibly useful, as well as fun. I happily accept my use of it's services with a philosophical attitude and an ever-present air of caution.

    I will be watching this evolve and decide another day.
  • As far as the issue of government collecting info...

    That's the US Patriot Act rearing its ugly head. If you're in the US, or operating over any kind of US-based network, you fall under this category.

    What most people outside of the US don't realize is that most North American ISP's have some kind of connection to US-based backbones, so again, that falls under the jurisdiction of the Patriot Act. That's scary stuff for anyone in, say, Canada or Mexico that thinks that they are immune to the Patriot Act by using a cloud hosting provider with servers located in their own country. I'm sure there are overseas backbone connections to other countries too (or those in Central or South America).

    Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, or any other US-based company shouldn't be the only concern for those posting data online.
  • No privacy, no interest

    Long since deleted my F-account. Have replaced it with an alias account used only to get content my contacts refuse to send any other way.
  • RE: Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?

    I see needing an inbox rule that will just send anything from facebook.com to the junk mail folder.
  • I think I'll...

    stick with good old Yahoo Mail. I have a FB acct to gab with my adult children and a few friends who live out of state. All games and apps are blocked. That's how it'll stay.
  • RE: Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?

    All these talks about privacy should move on with the time. If its not Google its Facebook who amass data (data mine) our privacy ! Grow up people, if privacy is what you're worries about, don't use it in the first place !
    • RE: Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?


      I don't!
  • Blocking any email from FB

    I have my own email server and URL. My blocked list is going to a have a new URL to auto-reject. <br><br>The last thing I need is more spam coming from FB because some idiot decided to send me an "invitation" and FB decided that that gave them the right to use my email as they please.
  • Can do this already with Eudora

    I use Eudora and receive wall posting and messages from my Facebook into my email via gmail. I can respond directly to Wall postings without opening my browser. To reply to messages I still have to open Facebook or alternatively I can send a reply to the persons email address via Eudora.

    So whats new?
  • RE: Facebook cannot guarantee privacy: Why is the 'social inbox' so different?

    I really doubt it facebook will suddenly provide complete privacy. They havent offered it in the past, so what makes us believe that they will now? My email account is too personal to have it on facebook's server. For people who dont care about privacy Facebook email might work but for others it definitely wont. I have deactivated facebook entirely and will join MyCube our Diaspora as soon as they release as they seem much more secure