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Facebook's identity crisis, GDPR and consumer data

By Greg Griffiths | Posted on March 26, 2018

Facebook identity theft and GDPR

Concerns about Facebook’s approach to user data and privacy don’t seem likely to die off soon. Today, Facebook responded to the furor about data collection and sharing by Cambridge Analytics and the subsequent questions about the collection of text messages and phone numbers from users’ Android devices by releasing simplified and easier to find privacy settings.

The changes are at least somewhat cosmetic - although, clearly, some are being put into place with the upcoming enforcement of the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in mind. In today’s announcement of their new privacy tools, Facebook highlights three areas of change.

  • A better privacy settings interface - Basically, Facebook is centralizing privacy settings on a single screen rather than distributing them across 20 screens.
  • A “Privacy Shortcuts” screen - Again, it’s largely cosmetic but this should make it easier for users to access things like two-factor authentication.
  • Tools for finding, downloading and deleting data - Giving data subjects a means to access, transport and delete their data is required by GDPR. Independent of the past two weeks’ data fiascos, this was likely something on their roadmap.

One unanswered question is whether Facebook will give its users the ability to delete chunks of data or content (say posts or photos from a particularly bad-hair year) rather than the nuclear option of deleting their entire account. Although Facebook’s announcement suggests this capability is or will be provided (“You can go here to delete anything from your timeline or profile that you no longer want on Facebook.”), Yahoo Finance is reporting that it will not.

If there is a silver lining in Facebook’s privacy troubles - or events like the Equifax breach - it's that consumers are more aware of the vulnerability of their personal data and spurring brands to take more sophisticated customer identity and consent management approaches. Consumer concerns about data privacy, after all, were a driving force behind the EU’s adoption of GDPR. Recently, Janrain CEO Jim Kaskade went on KATU television’s “Your Voice, Your Vote” to discuss the European data reforms and what they mean for consumers in the wake of Facebook’s privacy problems.

“It’s giving the consumers an amazing amount of power to control their privacy – so the right to understand what information is being collected, the right to be forgotten and the right to be deleted,” Jim said of GDPR. Although the legislation of similar consumer data protections in the United States at a federal level is probably not happening in the near term, individual states are implementing additional data safeguards and notification laws. Facebook’s recent privacy struggles are likely to add fuel to a movement toward more universal adoption of EU-style data standards.

In their announcement of the new privacy tools, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer, Erin Egan, and Deputy General Counsel, Ashlie Beringer, write that “it’s also our responsibility to tell you how we collect and use your data in language that’s detailed, but also easy to understand.” Both this statement and the GDPR regulation itself echo a quote from Steve Jobs in a 2010 interview that is more relevant than ever today:

“Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for — in plain English, and repeatedly.”

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About the author

Greg Griffiths

Sr. Product Marketing Manager

Greg Griffiths joined Janrain as Senior Product Marketing Manager after more than 15 years of bringing SaaS solutions to market in the enterprise IT, publishing and education arenas. At Janrain, he works across groups to ensure a cohesive and articulate presentation of how our products and services align with the needs of our clients and the larger market. Greg drives much of Janrain's content and relishes his many opportunities to learn and share the stories of our clients' successes.

View all posts by Greg Griffiths