All-Tech Considered: Facebook, FTC

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All-Tech Considered regular Omar Gallaga updates Michele Norris on the most recent news involving Facebook privacy and the Federal Trade Commission.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

We've been updating you on the controversy surrounding Facebook's information sharing policy. The one where Facebook shares your information with some third party websites unless you opt out. And opting out is not easy. So, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called on the company to change its process from opt out to opt in. In other words, you would have to give Facebook permission to use your personal information up front. Complaints have also been filed with the Federal Trade Commission about this issue. About 14 privacy groups have filed so far.

Joining me to talk about this is Omar Gallaga. He's the technology reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. Hey, Omar.

OMAR GALLAGA: Hi, Michele. Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: So, whats the latest with this issue? I understand theres a bit of news today.

GALLAGA: Well, the tech blogs were alight this morning with news that Facebook had hired former FTC chairman Tim Muris, who worked under the Bush administration and was the popular person who created the Do Not Call registry. Facebook has denied that they have hired him, although he may still be doing some counseling for them or some consulting on these privacy issues, which have kind of flared up over the last couple of weeks.

NORRIS: Now, privacy issues have swirled around Facebook for some time, but this recent controversy started up again after Facebook announced its new open graph project. Can you remind us what that's all about?

GALLAGA: Right. Well, most people think of Facebook as sort of a walled garden, as sort of its own kind of website and ecosystem. But what open graph does is it opens a lot of the information that's on Facebook to external websites. Let's say you go to a movie website, that movie website will exchange information with Facebook and know what movies you already like, it might know what preferences you have, where you're located and what theaters you might be looking at.

So, really, what Facebook is doing is expanding itself beyond its own walls and that's setting off a lot of alarm bells with some people who believe that that opens up a lot of your information to the rest of the Web and maybe not necessarily people who you'd want to have that information.

NORRIS: Omar, are there alternatives to Facebook, places where users who are sensitive about their privacy can share photos, perhaps keep in contact with family members or classmates?

GALLAGA: There are literally thousands of social networks you could go to. The issue becomes, is that where your friends and family are, is that where you're going to be able to connect with them? The problem, I think, is that Facebook, with its 400 million users, is where most people are. And when people are calling for an open alternative to Facebook, a service that would be more of a utopia as far as privacy goes, where'd you have more control over this, someone could build that and it could be perfect, but if nobody is there, then no one is going to use it.

NORRIS: Thank you, Omar.

GALLAGA: Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: That's Omar Gallaga. He's the technology culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. He joins us most Mondays on All-Tech Considered.

If you want to learn how to navigate Facebook's privacy settings, you can go to our blog, that's NPR.org/alltech. Well, Facebooks in the news for another reason. If it wasn't for Facebook, an 88-year-old Betty White might not have hosted Saturday Night Live this past weekend.

Ms. BETTY WHITE (Actor): I have so many people to thank for being here. But I really have to thank Facebook.

(Soundbite of cheering)

NORRIS: Betty White is thanking Facebook because half a million users signed on to the Facebook campaign to get her on Saturday Night Live.

Ms. WHITE: I didn't know what Facebook was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WHITE: And now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

NORRIS: Betty White was a big hit and Saturday Night Live had its best ratings in over a year. I think its safe to say she wont be tweeting anytime soon.

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