How stupid do you have to be to think you'll have privacy on Facebook?

How stupid do you have to be to think you'll have privacy on Facebook?

Summary: Facebook is a free service paid for by advertising. You want to use it for free, you have to accept some creepy ads.


Over the weekend, Facebook quietly agreed to a $10 million settlement in a privacy lawsuit. The money is to go to charity, according to Reuters, though I have to wonder how much is going to the lawyers.

What Facebook was allowing was something called a "sponsored story." Basically this means that the evil Facebook supercomputer uses my friends' "likes" as advertising tools targeted at me. So when I log into Facebook I see an advertisement claiming that my friend Bill likes some product or another.

This turns out to be against the law in California. Maybe it's against the law in other places too. I imagine anything you do in this world is against the law somewhere.

I must confess, sponsored stories are kind of creepy. Clever, but creepy. I was recently on LinkedIn looking at a guy's profile and I saw a big advertisement asking me to imagine myself as the next employee at his company, and right in the middle of the ad was my profile photo. So I sympathize with the five Californians who were perturbed by Facebook's sponsored stories.

But there is a simple solution to the problem: don't use Facebook. Forgive me, but only the most clueless person could at this point expect very much privacy when using Facebook. Facebook is a free service paid for by advertising. You want to use it for free, you have to accept some creepy ads. Maybe this state of affairs can get you in trouble in California, but on my home planet we call it the cost of doing business.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Legal

Steven Shaw

About Steven Shaw

Steven Shaw used to be a litigation attorney at Cravath, Swaine &gMoore, a New York law firm, and is now the online community managergfor and the Director of New Media Studies at thegInternational Culinary Center.

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  • RE: Facebook privacy

    The amount of privacy one has on Facebook depends entirely on how a person has their privacy settings. I had figured that since you are - oh how did you put it - so much smarter than anyone else here you'd have already figured that one out.
  • Facebook irritates me

    Well, it's more the stupid things people put on it that is irritating. Anyway, I use it in case relatives far away want to contact me. I keep my privacy settings as tight as possible. And now I decided never to have a profile picture of myself because of cases like the one in your example about your photo in an ad. I'll keep them to message photos, like my current one "For more information on lung cancer, keep smoking".
  • You Speak Like an Insider Belittling All Outsiders

    There are plenty of people, especially among the older generations, who have had a lot less exposure to technology than you and I. They do not have the same context we have, and to them it is not obvious. Calling them 'stupid' is unkind at the least. They simply have different experiences, and limited understanding of this environment. Facebook being the place where they can keep up with some people they care about is enough for them to jump in, even though they are not aware of all the repercussions and dangers. So, I'd appreciate a humbler and kinder approach from you in the future.
  • Thanks for the nasty article. Won't be reading you again anytime soon

    I agree with the other readers. You have to remember that not everyone has the same level of technology know how as you do. And they are still new to all these things even though the internet has been around for a long time. My father for example just got to start using email last year! Try to remember that before you go blasting people as stupid.
    • Your father has nothing to do with the article

      The author did not insult him. Your pretended indignation is the stuff the lawsuit cited in the article is made of.
      • pretended indignation?

        This is the headline - "How stupid do you have to be to think you???ll have privacy on Facebook?"

        If anybody said those words to me, I'd feel deliberately insulted. Maybe you read it differently? I'm sure he meant it rhetorically, but phrases that combine "you" & "stupid" are like nukes (they have consequences).
  • Quite right

    I'm glad that I am not on Facebook, never have been, never will be. I also have never even looked at it. You want privacy, don't go there.
  • The real question is. . .

    How stupid do you have to be to not understand that some people (mostly, it seems middle age and up) actually do care about their privacy and maybe don't have your knowledge of the realities of social media (i.e. who the social media companies' real customers are) because they were maybe, I dunno, out having real lives in the real world?

    Silly me, I thought your job was to inform people, not to berate them for not already knowing the things it's your job to tell them. So, maybe, the little warning bells about things that look too good to be true [i]not[/i] being true didn't go off in their minds. It's not the same as being stupid.

    BTW, I have the bare minimum presence on LinkedIn and none whatsoever on any other of the social media, so that bell [i]did[/i] go off in my mind. But it's not just social media, any more. The rest of the web follows us around, too these days.

    Am I the only one who finds it more creepy than useful to have products about which I've searched for info elsewhere showing up when I log onto (for example)? I've changed my mind about ordering things from them upon finding sign of them snooping on my other web activity and notified Amazon corporate that I considered that a bit too intrusive and that they weren't going to be rewarded for it. I also posted comments in the products' comments sections rating them accurately, but also noting that I didn't buy them from Amazon, and why. Basing suggestions on what I looked at or purchased on their own site is fine, basing them on what I looked at or bought elsewhere on the web is just creepy.
    rocket ride
  • Very poorly done!

    ... and you're supposed to be a "professional"!

    You had a great opportunity to educate some folks that don't have the technical knowledge and/or experience that you and I probably have. Instead you chose to provide little in the way of actual facts, and decided to slam the public for their lack of knowledge or technical expertise.

    It sort of looks like ZDNet doesn't care anymore about what their so called "writers" are publishing!

    Shame on you Mr. Shaw and shame on ZDNet for letting you publish this article in the manner that you did.
    • Want some cheese with that

      whine? It is difficult to believe that so many people are offended so deeply by a stated fact: Folks should not expect privacy, and they should expect ads, and to launch a lawsuit in reaction to the norm is "stupid". Actually, it is use of the courts to extort money from a business. That should be a crime. So the author is actually being quite kind in the sense that he is not calling them what they really are... Thin - skinned, whiny, selfish, extortionists.
    • Deliberately Written This Way

      When as noted, the author had not much else to offer such as just how to go about tightening your privacy configurations, you make slash remarks. It's called click bait in the industry. Cheap trick by the the rest of us.
  • Another ZDNet writer who apparently never met Joe Average

    Here we go again. It's usually the strictly IT writers who seem to think a big part of the world is as IT savvy as them and their acquaintances. You really don't have a clue do you?

    Believe it when I say you would probably be shocked at how little so many out there understand about the Internet and the world of IT generally. Many people, even people who use a computer everyday, think about it the same way as using a toaster or the process of mailing a letter. In other words; little to no thought goes into it. Havnt you ever seen the "Tonight Show" the "Jay Walking" segment? It's absolutely brutal how little so many out there put their mind to.

    In some fairness to the "great unwashed masses", many of them simply think certain things would either be illegal or underhanded so they never suspect much of what's actually going on, but of course that's their first mistake.

    Never underestimate Joe Averages want to just do things without putting much thought into it without facing what he/she would believe to be annoying complexities.

    That capacity is nothing less than boundless in many cases.

    How stupid do you have to think a Nigerian prince wants to give you all his gold? Perhaps much stupider than not understanding Facebook, but it still happens on occasion. That should be the yardstick you work with on these assumptions you have about the average person and IT related matters.
    • But

      Even though the Nigerian prince is sending out millions of emails, all he needs is one person to make his day and make it all worth while. We had an interesting "discussion" on one of these blogs. It concerned whether Apple, Inc. was guilty of spreading a false sense of security about their products. Not the issue of whether they are easy to hack or not easy. But what some of the above and below have been talking about, there is a whole segment of people out there who just cannot grasp that there are bad people out there trying to remove their money from them and no technology is going to save them. All they need is one phishing email to expose their money or one dark prince of Nigeria to select them and the rest could be history. The goal here is to get all users: young and old, to understand that loss of privacy may be just an annoyance when it comes to ads, but it can also result in the real loss of possessions to those who are not vigilant. Maybe California is a bit heavy-handed with businesses that use advertising through a lack of privacy and permission, but while most people think they want less government, these same people are the first to say that the government should do something when it happens to them. Unless we want a return to the REAL Wild West of the 1800's.
  • Don't need it......

    Amazingly enough, there are those that get along quite nicely without FB and other social networking sites.
    You want privacy? Then keep away from this stuff. Simple.
    "Old-fashioned" social networking methods such as emails, phone calls, and face-to-face contacts work just fine.
    Works for me.
    da philster
  • Harsh much

    I had to re-read the article after reading the comments. I think the writer makes a valid point. It's 2012 and unless they've been completely disconnected, people know there's privacy issues eveywhere on the intrnet. I find that a lot of people who may appear stupid are really just lazy. They just don't want to think.
    • Some People Have No Idea

      First, why didn't you read the article and then the comments? Seriously. I want to know because I see a lot of people who respond to comments that obviously have never read (or understood) the article. Maybe not in your case. Second, some of you were born AFTER the personal computer was invented. Some of us had to deal with the abacus first. Some of us may be pioneers. However, there are a lot of people out there of EVERY age that don't think. "Oh, yeah! This is Kewl! Downside? Nah! Who cares!" and there are elder Americans who have never used a computer in their lives (like my mother). Would you stick a computer in front of some 80-something year old and show her how to move the mouse, use the keyboard, not put their coffeee cup on the CD burner and just give them enough instruction just to get them on a facebook acciount and NOT warn them about privacy? Are these people suppose to know about this? How about the Grandson who sets grandma up with an account and shows her just enough how to communicate back and forth? How are people supposed to know unless you tell them? They don't read blogs. They do go to security classes. And it is not an age thing? How many boys who have been born with computers know that the 12 year old girl they are talking to is really a 60+ year old pervert? It happens all the time. Nobody is born with the sense to know to be careful of privacy. It has to be taught these days.
  • It has nothing to do with intelligence.

    Facebook users deserve the right to a certain amount of safety and privacy. It's bad enough that intelligence agencies have total access to all digital communications(email, phone calls, etc.) without private companies building dossiers on us for profit.
    • Sorry

      Facebook is a FOR PROFIT company. You, the user don't really deserve anything. If this is for free, then you deserve even less. I had this arguement with some young kid who kept insisting that the Internet was "FREE". How about that. Every ad you see online is paid for by a retailler. And that retailler will raise their prices to cover their costs whether we are dealing with brick-and-mortar stores or online sites. It is NEVER free. Servers and networking gear and bandwidth cost a LOT of money. So, everything Google sells is free? Facebook is FREE??? No, someone has to pay all those salaries and equipment and stockholders. So, did you read the privacy policy of a website lately? How about the terms of service? FAQ's? Do you really think you get something for nothing? It's not like these sites hide the fact that you have no privacy. They tell you that up front. As others have said, you have to be pretty naive to think there is no downside to all this. Follow the golden Rule:

      "If there is something you'd NOT like to see on the front page of a national newspaper or if there is something you would not like to see on the 10 o'clock news, don't put it out on the internet". And be lucky if nobody has posted something about YOU on the web. There is no way to keep anything on the internet as private. Sometimes, there are friends of a friend of a friend....
  • People don't take responsibility anymore

    A lot of people would rather blame someone else or try and act as though they are unaware of the privacy issues. Why Facebook does not argue that their EUA states that you must decide what information anybody can get on you. Its so easy to play dumb and just file a law suit. I myself am not so ignorant as to not know anything free is not really free.
    • Some People Are

      The young, the old. How many of the posters here (besides you and I read the EUA, Terms, Privacy Policy, etc.? Not many. It's the goose with the golden eggs. It's all these magical things these sites will do for you. Find things. Does your homework. Communicates instantly with anyone any where! With features like that, nobody wants to know what is really happening. Nobody thinks that these wonderful things will lead to a loss of a job when your boss pulls out your FB posts about him. It's all too good to be true, right? It's not just responsibility. Some older Americans don't know about these issues. All they know is they click the mouse and voila! Pictures of the family. Pictures of the new granson. A new friend wants to say hello from Nigeria.....

      Others, really don't want to know. It's great and its FREE! Who cares about privacy... I have nothing to hide........