Technology

Privacy concerns arise ahead of Facebook IPO

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Facebook's move to go public and sell stock in its company means it's also facing pressure over protecting users' privacy. That concern prompted flash mobs with a warning message in San Francisco and New York Tuesday.

Facebook has nearly 1 billion users and data about those users helps advertisers target their ads. But analysts fear that once Facebook goes public, there will be so much pressure to sell even more advertising that Facebook will be forced to gather even more data about its users.

Boston-based online privacy company Abine was in San Francisco and New York Tuesday, hoping to capitalize on Facebook's upcoming IPO. In both cities, Abine staged what they called a flash mob, but was more like a benign walking billboard to promote the company.

"Our message really is, use the Internet, use Facebook, you know, but we think it's a whole lot better when you get to choose what information you're sharing and how it's being utilized," Abine spokesperson Kristine Kennedy said.

Abine also took out full page ads in the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times. Despite the obvious advertising opportunity, there are legitimate privacy concerns attached to the Friday IPO.

"Facebook recently changed its privacy policy terminology to read 'data use policy,'" Kennedy said. "What that really signals, I think, is this is about how they're going to use your data."

Ryan Singel is a Wired magazine editor. His blog about online privacy and security is called "Threat Level." ABC7 News asked him what the threat level is for Facebook users come Friday.

"It's probably the same as it's been, kind of a, maybe a yellow to orange," Singel said.

He thinks not much will change Friday, but under increasing pressure to make money a change could be coming.

"The thing to watch for is in two or three years is if Facebook shares aren't doing very well, that's when you get scared because that's when a company will start to make decisions that are bad for you," Singel said.

In the meantime, he says it couldn't hurt to lock in your privacy settings, something Facebook does not always make easy.

"I always have to help my mother with her profile," Singel said. "I think when it passes the 'my mother' test, that other people's mothers are much more tech savvy, when it passes that, I think we can call it easy."

Singel says there are lot os online tutorials to help users navigate Facebook's privacy settings.

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