Facebook’s latest privacy innovations flatter to deceive

Hands hoding mobile with Facebook screen in coffee shop.

Facebook’s privacy push continues apace but despite the corporate behemoths best efforts, few people are convinced by their PR bluster.

Twice this week, Facebook has hit the headlines for what, on the face of it, is a positive privacy premise. But in both cases, scratch beneath the surface and you can still find a business which feeds on user data and is desperately trying to look like it doesn’t.

Facebook’s Privacy Cafes

Their first scheme sounds like it has come straight from the Alan Partridge idea’s book. Privacy Cafes!

Having checked that it wasn’t April 1st, we looked into this story a little more and found, to our astonishment, it is true. Facebook is really going to open six pop-up privacy cafes across the UK.

The premise is that people can drop in, have a free cup of coffee courtesy of Mr. Zuckerberg, and get a free privacy check-up while they are there.

If this sounds to you rather like getting medical advice from Harold Shipman or batting advice from the Australian cricket team at Headingley (one for the cricket fans there), then frankly, it does to us too.

Needless to say, in order to get your free privacy check-up, you will have to expose your Facebook account to a Facebook employee. This may trouble a few people but most will have long ago realised that Facebook is studying everything they put on their account closely in any case.

Facebook’s café case is that a lot of people don’t know how to customise their Facebook privacy settings. Experts in the Facebook cafes will apparently be able to help them get to grips with it.

Cynics might suggest it would be better for Facebook to make their privacy settings easier to use, or perhaps even switch them on by default, rather than forcing users to spend time struggling over them with their barista. Mark Zuckerberg obviously thinks differently.

If you fancy a free Americano, Cappuccino, or Mint Tea (the only three drinks available apparently) then you can visit the Facebook cafes which will be popping up at The Attendant in London, Takk in Manchester, The Flour Pot Cafe in Brighton, Union Brew Lab in Edinburgh and Coffee Barker in Cardiff soon.

Facebook’s latest new privacy feature is go… sort of

One of the many complex privacy features you and your barista could be wrestling with could well be their latest innovation, which has been called ‘Off-Facebook Activity’.

This might sound like an odd name if you were naïve enough to assume that Facebook only collected data about you from your Facebook account. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Facebook tracks everything you do online all the time. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account, Facebook will still have a file on you and use that information to target advertising at you.

But Facebook’s data harvesting habits have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, not least thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. And in the wake of this PR disaster, Facebook has suddenly developed a love of online privacy. As long as it doesn‘t interfere with their profit-making that is!

Having promised swift action to deliver a clear history tool, Facebook has gone quiet for more than a year. Now it has come back with this latest innovation.

According to Facebook, the new ‘Off-Facebook Activity’ feature will give you a summary of all the different websites and apps which share data about you with Facebook.

It will also give you the power to disconnect this data from your Facebook accounts. This will mean that it is no longer used to target personalized adverts at you on the various Facebook-owned platforms.

As Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Erin Egan and its director of product management, David Baser, have claimed in a blog post, the new tool “could have some impact” on Facebook’s business, but “giving people control over their data is more important.”

Well, aren’t we lucky to have such charitable and considerate people harvesting our private data?

Of course, the truth is that Facebook’s big new privacy tool actually doesn’t make a jot of difference to our online privacy. Yes, we can disconnect the data they harvest from our Facebook accounts, but Facebook will still be hoovering up every bit of data they can about all of us.

Even if you choose to disconnect, it won’t actually happen for 48-hours and during that time, “it may be used for measurement purposes and to make improvements to our ads systems.”

There is still no way for users to delete the data Facebook holds on them. Also, analysts suggest that they only way the new tool will affect Facebook revenue is if users take it up in large numbers. And prior experience shows that people rarely enable new privacy features in sufficient volume for it to matter.

Mark Zuckerberg famously said of the first users of Facebook at Harvard, “They trust me… Dumb f*cks.”

This latest innovation suggests that his attitude hasn’t changed much. But hey, at least we can get a free coffee out of him now.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

David is VPNCompare's News Editor. Anything going on in the privacy world and he's got his eye on it. He's also interested in unblocking sports allowing him to watch his favourite football team wherever he is in the world.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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