The Privacy of Facebook Questions

There has recently been a new addition to the items popping up in Facebook newsfeeds across the country with “Facebook Questions”. This feature allows users to asks questions to which friends can respond in either free form or a poll-like format. The user interface encourages users to post these questions as they would any regular status update/link/photo, but also allows the user to designate specific individuals they especially want an answer from. Upon noticing this new feature, I excitedly navigated to a Facebook group I’m in where we’ve been waiting for a feature that would let us ask members in the group what time they could meet, which items they wanted on the agenda, etc. However, to my dismay, the option was not availble when posting to my group. After some brief research I found out why. It was because my Facebook group was private and Facebook Questions are PUBLIC ONLY. The first time I posted a question it notified me that Facebook Questions were all public but has since lulled me into nearly forgetting that the privacy of Facebook Questions are fundamentally different from status updates despite their UI similarities.

Now I will acklowedge that Facebook at least warned me of this difference, but that is hardly a high bar when every other facet of the program is designed against the interest of user privacy. Facebook only alerts users once about Facebook Questions; the UI leads users to believe Questions function similarly to status updates and questions asked/answered/commented on are all public with no exceptions.

I’ve heard the argument that the younger generation doesn’t care about privacy, but I believe they very strongly do. The only problem is that they release private information all the time without ever seeing explicitly how that information is gathered and used. It is only when a users’ information is subpoenaed, or used against them in court that the user becomes outraged over the use of their data because that is the only time when it becomes apparent that this information is being systematically collected.

Telling Facebook users that if they don’t want to expose their information, they can stop using Facebook is simply unnacceptable and is clearly a way in which Facebook uses its monopoly in the social network market to force users to pump personal information to advertisers. One very popular Question on Facebook is “Which states have you visited” and I would be very surprised if any of those respondents would be comfortable knowing that that information was being compiled in an already existing dossier with other information about them, and that that dossier was for sale to the highest bidder or would readily be turned over to government authorities.

Why users don’t stand up for their privacy, I believe, is due to a lack of education. When sharing personal information is so easy and so purposefully encouraged while the collection and sale of this data is so secretly hidden and obscured to the point of subterfuge, it should be no surprise that indivdual users are unsuspecting of the perils of features like Facebook Questions.

Learn more by seeing A Facebook Question about Facebook Questions or view a video about online privacy at dotrights.org/education

UPDATE: It “seems” that you can now post questions to private/secret groups that are inaccessible to the public.