Criticism of Facebook

Criticism of Facebook

Facebook's growth as an Internet social networking site has met criticism on a range of issues, including online privacy, child safety, and the inability to terminate accounts without first manually deleting the content. In 2008, many companies removed their advertising from the site because it was being displayed on the pages of controversial individuals and groups. The content of user pages, groups, and forums has been criticized for promoting controversial topics. There have been several issues with censorship, both on and off the site.

The changes[clarification needed] made by Facebook have been criticized, in particular the new format launched in 2008 and the changes in Facebook's Terms of Use, which removed the clause detailing automatic expiry of deleted content. Facebook has also been sued several times.[1]


Privacy concerns

Issues during 2007

In August 2007, the code used to dynamically generate Facebook's home and search page as visitors browse the site was accidentally made public, according to leading internet news sites.[2][3] A configuration problem on a Facebook server caused the PHP code to be displayed instead of the web page the code should have created, raising concerns about how secure private data on the site was. A visitor to the site copied, published and later removed the code from his web forum, claiming he had been served legal notice by Facebook.[4] Facebook's response was quoted by the site that broke the story:[5]

A small fraction of the code that displays Facebook web pages was exposed to a small number of users due to a single misconfigured web server that was fixed immediately. It was not a security breach and did not compromise user data in any way. Because the code that was released powers only Facebook user interface, it offers no useful insight into the inner workings of Facebook. The reprinting of this code violates several laws and we ask that people not distribute it further.

In November, Facebook launched Beacon, a system (discontinued in September 2009[6]) where third-party websites could include a script by Facebook on their sites, and use it to send information about the actions of Facebook users on their site to Facebook, prompting serious privacy concerns. Information such as purchases made and games played were published in the user's news feed. An informative notice about this action appeared on the third party site and gave the user the opportunity to cancel it, and the user could also cancel it on Facebook. Originally if no action was taken, the information was automatically published. On November 29 this was changed to require confirmation from the user before publishing each story gathered by Beacon.

On December 1, Facebook's credibility in regard to the Beacon program was further tested when it was reported that the New York Times "essentially accuses" Mark Zuckerberg of lying to the paper and leaving Coca-Cola, which is reversing course on the program, a similar impression.[7] A security engineer at CA, Inc. also claimed in a November 29, 2007 blog post that Facebook collected data from affiliate sites even when the consumer opted out and even when not logged into the Facebook site.[8] On November 30, 2007, the CA security blog posted a Facebook clarification statement [9] addressing the use of data collected in the Beacon program:

When a Facebook user takes a Beacon-enabled action on a participating site, information is sent to Facebook in order for Facebook to operate Beacon technologically. If a Facebook user clicks ‘No, thanks’ on the partner site notification, Facebook does not use the data and deletes it from its servers. Separately, before Facebook can determine whether the user is logged in, some data may be transferred from the participating site to Facebook. In those cases, Facebook does not associate the information with any individual user account, and deletes the data as well.

The Beacon service ended in September 2009 along with the settlement of a class-action lawsuit resulting from the service.[6]

News Feed and Mini-Feed

On September 5, 2006, Facebook introduced two new features called "News Feed" and "Mini-Feed". The first of the new features, News Feed, appears on every Facebook member's home page, displaying recent Facebook activities of the member's friends. The second feature, Mini-Feed, keeps a log of similar events on each member's profile page.[10] Members can manually delete items from their Mini-Feeds if they wish to do so, and through privacy settings can control what is actually published in their respective Mini-Feeds.

Some Facebook members still feel that the ability to opt out of the entire News Feed and Mini-Feed system is necessary, as evidenced by a statement from the Students Against Facebook News Feed group, which peaked at over 740,000 members in 2006.[11] Reacting to users' concerns, Facebook developed new privacy features to give users some control over information about them that was broadcast by the News Feed.[12] According to subsequent news articles, members have widely regarded the additional privacy options as an acceptable compromise.[13]

In December 2009, Facebook removed the privacy controls for the News Feed and Mini Feed.[14] This change made it impossible for users to control what activities are published on their walls (and consequently the public news feed).[15] Since users can post anything they want, this allowed people to post things that could target certain groups of people or abuse other users through other means.

In May 2010, Facebook added privacy controls and streamlined its privacy settings, giving users more ways to manage status updates and other information that is broadcast to the public News Feed.[16] Among the new privacy settings is the ability to control who sees each new status update a user posts: Everyone, Friends of Friends, or Friends Only. Users can now hide each status update from specific people as well.[17]

Cooperation with government search requests

Government authorities rely on Facebook to investigate crimes and obtain evidence to help establish a crime, provide location information, establish motives, prove and disprove alibis, and reveal communications.[18] Federal, state, and local investigations have not been restricted to profiles that are publicly available or willingly provided to the government; Facebook has willingly provided information in response to government subpoenas or requests, except with regard to private, unopened inbox messages less than 181 days old, which require a warrant and a finding of probable cause under federal law.[19] An article by Junichi Semitsu published in the Pace Law Review, reports that "even when the government lacks reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and the user opts for the strictest privacy controls, Facebook users still cannot expect federal law to stop their 'private' content and communications from being used against them. "[19] Facebook's privacy policy states that "We may also share information when we have a good faith belief it is necessary to prevent fraud or other illegal activity, to prevent imminent bodily harm, or to protect ourselves and you from people violating our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, courts or other government entities."[19] Since Congress has failed to meaningfully amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to protect most communications on social networking sites such as Facebook and since the Supreme Court has largely refused to recognize a Fourth Amendment privacy right to information shared with a third party, there is no federal statutory or constitutional right that prevents the government from issuing requests that amount to fishing expeditions and there is no Facebook privacy policy that forbids the company from handing over private user information that suggests any illegal activity.[19]

Aided by Facebook, Israel prevented scores of pro-Palestinian activists in July 2011 from boarding Tel Aviv-bound flights in Europe .[20]

Complaint from CIPPIC

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), per Director Phillipa Lawson, filed a 35-page complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner against Facebook on May 31, 2008, based on 22 breaches of the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). University of Ottawa law students Lisa Feinberg, Harley Finkelstein, and Jordan Eric Plener, initiated the "minefield of privacy invasion" suit. Facebook's Chris Kelly contradicted the claims, saying that: "We've reviewed the complaint and found it has serious factual errors — most notably its neglect of the fact that almost all Facebook data is willingly shared by users."[21] Assistant Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham released a report of her findings on July 16, 2009.[22] In it, she found that several of CIPPIC's complaints were well-founded. Facebook agreed to comply with some, but not all, of her recommendations.[22] The Assistant Commissioner found that Facebook did not do enough to ensure users granted meaningful consent for the disclosure of personal information to third parties and did not place adequate safeguards to ensure unauthorized access by third party developers to personal information.[22]

Data mining

There have been some concerns expressed regarding the use of Facebook as a means of surveillance and data mining. The Facebook privacy policy once stated, "We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile."[23] However, the policy was later updated and now states: "We may use information about you that we collect from other Facebook users to supplement your profile (such as when you are tagged in a photo or mentioned in a status update). In such cases we generally give you the ability to remove the content (such as allowing you to remove a photo tag of you) or limit its visibility on your profile."[23] The terminology regarding the use of collecting information from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, and instant messaging services, has been removed.

The possibility of data mining by private individuals unaffiliated with Facebook has been a concern, as evidenced by the fact that two Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students were able to download, using an automated script, over 70,000 Facebook profiles from four schools (MIT, NYU, the University of Oklahoma, and Harvard University) as part of a research project on Facebook privacy published on December 14, 2005.[24] Since then, Facebook has bolstered security protection for users, responding: "We’ve built numerous defenses to combat phishing and malware, including complex automated systems that work behind the scenes to detect and flag Facebook accounts that are likely to be compromised (based on anomalous activity like lots of messages sent in a short period of time, or messages with links that are known to be bad)."[25]

A second clause that brought criticism from some users allowed Facebook the right to sell users' data to private companies, stating "We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship." This concern was addressed by spokesman Chris Hughes, who said "Simply put, we have never provided our users' information to third party companies, nor do we intend to."[26] Facebook eventually removed this clause from its privacy policy.[27]

Previously, third party applications had access to almost all user information. Facebook's privacy policy previously stated: "Facebook does not screen or approve Platform Developers and cannot control how such Platform Developers use any personal information."[28] However, that language has since been removed. Regarding use of user data by third party applications, the ‘Pre-Approved Third-Party Websites and Applications’ section of the Facebook privacy policy now states:

In order to provide you with useful social experiences off of Facebook, we occasionally need to provide General Information about you to pre-approved third party websites and applications that use Platform at the time you visit them (if you are still logged in to Facebook). Similarly, when one of your friends visits a pre-approved website or application, it will receive General Information about you so you and your friend can be connected on that website as well (if you also have an account with that website). In these cases we require these websites and applications to go through an approval process, and to enter into separate agreements designed to protect your privacy…You can disable instant personalization on all pre-approved websites and applications using your Applications and Websites privacy setting. You can also block a particular pre-approved website or application by clicking "No Thanks" in the blue bar when you visit that application or website. In addition, if you log out of Facebook before visiting a pre-approved application or website, it will not be able to access your information.[23]

In the United Kingdom, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has encouraged employers to allow their staff to access Facebook and other social networking sites from work, provided they proceed with caution.[29]

In September 2007, Facebook drew a fresh round of criticism after it began allowing non-members to search for users, with the intent of opening limited "public profiles" up to search engines such as Google in the following months.[30] Facebook's privacy settings, however, allow users to block their profiles from search engines.

Concerns were also raised on the BBC's Watchdog programme in October 2007 when Facebook was shown to be an easy way in which to collect an individual's personal information in order to facilitate identity theft.[31] However, there is barely any personal information presented to non-friends - if users leave the privacy controls on their default settings, the only personal information visible to a non-friend is the user's name, gender, profile picture, networks, and user name.[32]

In addition, a New York Times article in February 2008 pointed out that Facebook does not actually provide a mechanism for users to close their accounts, and thus raised the concern that private user data would remain indefinitely on Facebook's servers.[33] However, Facebook now gives users the options to deactivate or delete their accounts, according to the Facebook Privacy Policy. “When you deactivate an account, no user will be able to see it, but it will not be deleted. We save your profile information (connections, photos, etc.) in case you later decide to reactivate your account.” The policy further states: “When you delete an account, it is permanently deleted from Facebook.”[23]

A third party site, USocial, was involved in a controversy surrounding the sale of fans and friends. USocial received a cease-and-desist letter from Facebook and has stopped selling friends.[34]

Inability to voluntarily terminate accounts

Facebook had allowed users to deactivate their accounts but not actually remove account content from its servers. A Facebook representative explained to a student from the University of British Columbia that users had to clear their own accounts by manually deleting all of the content including wall posts, friends, and groups. A New York Times article noted the issue, and also raised a concern that emails and other private user data remain indefinitely on Facebook's servers.[35] Facebook subsequently began allowing users to permanently delete their accounts. Facebook's Privacy Policy now states: "When you delete an account, it is permanently deleted from Facebook."[23]


A notable ancillary effect of social networking websites, particularly Facebook, is the ability for participants to mourn publicly for a deceased individual. On Facebook, students often leave messages of sadness, grief, or hope on the individual's page, transforming it into a sort of public book of condolences. This particular phenomenon has been documented at a number of schools.[36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44] Previously, Facebook had stated that its official policy on the matter was to remove the profile of the deceased one month after he or she has died,[45] preventing the profile from being used for communal mourning, citing privacy concerns. Due to user response, Facebook amended its policy. Its new policy is to place deceased members' profiles in a "memorialization state".[46] Facebook's Privacy Policy regarding memorialization says, "If we are notified that a user is deceased, we may memorialize the user’s account. In such cases we restrict profile access to confirmed friends, and allow friends and family to write on the user’s Wall in remembrance. We may close an account if we receive a formal request from the user's next of kin or other proper legal request to do so."[23]

Such memorial groups have also raised legal issues. Notably, on January 1, 2008, one such memorial group posted the identity of murdered Toronto teenager Stefanie Rengel, whose family had not yet given the Toronto Police Service their consent to release her name to the media, and the identities of her accused killers, in defiance of Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act which prohibits publishing the names of under-age criminals.[47] While police and Facebook staff attempted to comply with the privacy regulations by deleting such posts, they noted that it was difficult to effectively police the individual users who repeatedly republished the deleted information.[48]

Customization and security

Facebook is often compared to MySpace but one significant difference between the two sites is the level of customization. MySpace allows users to decorate their profiles using HTML and CSS while Facebook allows only plain text. However, a number of users have tweaked their profiles by using "hacks." On February 24, 2006, a pair of users exploited a cross-site scripting (XSS) hole on the profile page and created a fast-spreading worm, loading a custom CSS file on infected profiles that made them look like MySpace profiles.[49]

On April 19, 2006, a user was able to embed an iframe into his profile and load a custom off-site page featuring a streaming video and a flash game from Drawball. He has since been banned from Facebook.[50]

On March 26, 2006, a user was able to embed JavaScript in the "Hometown" field of his profile which imported his custom CSS.[51]

In each case, Facebook quickly patched the holes, typically within hours of their discovery. However, in July 2007, Adrienne Felt, an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, discovered a cross-site scripting (XSS) hole in the Facebook Platform that could inject JavaScript into profiles. She used the hole to import custom CSS and demonstrate how the platform could be used to violate privacy rules or create a worm.[52] This hole took Facebook two and a half weeks to fix.[53]

Photo recognition and face tagging

Facebook enabled an automatic facial recognition feature in June 2011, called "Tag Suggestions". The feature compares newly uploaded photographs to those of the uploader's Facebook friends, in order to suggest photo tags. Facebook has defended the feature, saying users can disable it.[54] Facebook introduced the feature in an opt-out basis.[55] European Union data-protection regulators said they would investigate the feature to see if it violated privacy rules.[54][56]

Investigation by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner 2011

In August 2011 the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) started an investigation after receiving 16 complaints by which was founded by a group of Austrian students.[57] The DPC stated in first reactions that the Irish DPC is legally responsible for privacy on Facebook for all users within the European Union [58] and that he will "investigate the complaints using his full legal powers if necessary".[59] The complaints were filed in Ireland because all users who are not residents of the United States or Canada have a contract with "Facebook Ireland Ltd", located in Dublin, Ireland. Under European law Facebook Ireland is the "data controller" for, and therefore, is governed by European data protection laws.[58] Facebook Ireland Ltd. was established by Facebook Inc. to avoid US taxes (see Double Irish Arrangement).

The group made access requests at Facebook Ireland and received up to 1.200 pages of data per person in 57 data categories that Facebook was holding about them,[60] including data that was previously removed by the users.[61] Despite the amount of information given, the group claimed that Facebook did not give them all of its data. Some of the information not included was "likes", data about the new face recognition function, data about third party websites that use "social plugins" visited by users and information about uploaded videos.

The 16 complaints target different problems, from undeleted old "pokes" all the way to the question if sharing and new functions on Facebook should be opt-in or opt-put.[62] The most severe could be a complaint that claims that the privacy policy and the consent to the privacy policy is void under European laws. It is reported that the group is planning to file more complaints, including one against the "Like" button.[63]

In an Interview with the Irish Independent a spokesperson said, that the DPC will "go and audit Facebook, go into the premises and go through in great detail every aspect of security". He continued by saying: "It's a very significant, detailed and intense undertaking that will stretch over four or five days. Then we'll publish a detailed report and Facebook will respond".[64] This means that the investigation by the DPC might become one of the most severe investigations into Facebook's privacy practice in the past years.

Psychological effects


Facebook has been criticized for making people envious and unhappy due to the constant exposure to positive yet unrepresentative highlights of their peers.[65][66][67][68][69][70]


Research performed by psychologists from Edinburgh Napier University indicated that Facebook adds stress to users' lives. Causes of stress included fear of missing important social information, fear of offending contacts, discomfort or guilt from rejecting user requests or deleting unwanted contacts, the pressure to be entertaining, and having to use appropriate etiquette for different types of friends.[71] Many people who started using Facebook for positive purposes have found that the website has negatively impacted their actual lives.[72]

Misleading campaigns

In May 2011 emails were sent to journalists and bloggers making critical allegations about Google's privacy policies; however it was later discovered that the anti-Google campaign, conducted by PR giant Burson-Marsteller, was paid for by Facebook in what CNN referred to as "a new level skullduggery" and which Daily Beast called a "clumsy smear." While taking responsibility for the campaign, Burson-Marsteller said it should not have agreed to keep its client's (Facebook's) identity a secret. "Whatever the rationale, this was not at all standard operating procedure and is against our policies, and the assignment on those terms should have been declined," it said in a statement.[73]

Inappropriate content controversies

Identity theft

One can easily create an account and impersonate another person, often for malicious or mischievous reasons and to harass others.[74][75][76][77][78][79] This criticism is not unique to Facebook, since any site with user accounts has the potential for users to create false accounts but due to its popularity and wide use Facebook is being the severe reason for this on internet.


On July 24, 2008, the High Court in London ordered a British cameraman to pay £22,000 (then about US$43,700) for breach of privacy and libel. He had posted a fake Facebook page purporting to be that of a former schoolfriend and business colleague, Mathew Firsht, with whom he had fallen out in 2000. The fake page claimed that Firsht was homosexual and untrustworthy. The case is believed to be the first successful invasion of privacy and defamation verdict against someone over an entry on a social networking site.[80][81][82][83][84][85]

Anorexia and bulimia

Facebook has received criticism from users and from people outside the Facebook community about hosting pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia information.[86] British eating disorder charity B-EAT called on all social networking sites to curb "pro-ana" (anorexia) and "pro-mia" (bulimia) pages and groups, naming MySpace and Facebook specifically.[87]

Advertiser concerns

On August 3, 2007, British companies including First Direct, Vodafone, Virgin Media, The Automobile Association, Halifax and the Prudential removed their advertisements from Facebook. A Virgin Media spokeswoman said "We want to advertise on social networks but we have to protect our brand". The companies found that their services were being advertised on pages of the British National Party, a far-right political party in the UK. New Media Age magazine was first to alert the companies that their ads were coming up on BNP's Facebook page.[88]

Holocaust denial

In 2009, Facebook received criticism for including Holocaust denial groups.[89] Barry Schnitt, a spokesman for Facebook, said, "We want Facebook to be a place where ideas, even controversial ideas, can be discussed." While Facebook's terms of use include the warning that users may "be banned if they post 'any content that we deem to be harmful, threatening, unlawful, defamatory, infringing, abusive, inflammatory, harassing, vulgar, obscene, fraudulent, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable'", Schnitt said, "We can't guarantee that there isn't any content that violates our policies."

Pro-mafia groups' case

In Italy, the discovery of pro-mafia groups[90] caused an alert in the country[91][92][93] and brought the government, after a short debate,[94] to rapidly issue a law which will force ISPs to deny access to entire sites in case of refused removal of illegal contents; the removal can be requested by a prosecutor in any case in which there is a suspicion that criminal speech (a defence of or incitement to crime) is published on a website. The amendment was passed by the Italian Senate and now needs to be passed unchanged[95] by the Chamber of Deputies to become immediately effective.

Facebook and other websites, Google included,[96] criticized the amendment emphasizing the eventual effects on the freedom of speech of those users who do not violate any law.


On March 31, 2010, the Today Show ran a segment detailing the deaths of three separate adolescent girls and trolls' subsequent reactions to their deaths. Shortly after the suicide of high school student Alexis Pilkington, anonymous posters began trolling for reactions across various message boards, referring to Pilkington as a "suicidal slut", and posting graphic images on her Facebook memorial page. The segment also included an exposé of a 2006 accident, in which an eighteen-year-old student out for a drive fatally crashed her father's car into a highway pylon; trolls e-mailed her grieving family the leaked pictures of her mutilated corpse.[97]

There have been cases where Facebook "trolls" were jailed for their communications on Facebook, particularly memorial pages. In Fall 2010, Colm Coss of Ardick, Britain, was sentenced to 26 weeks in jail under s127 of the Communications Act 2003 of Great Britain,[98] for "malicious communications" for leaving messages deemed obscene and hurtful on Facebook memorial pages.[99][100]

In April 2011, Bradley Paul Hampson was sentenced to three years in jail after pleading guilty to two counts of using a carriage service, the Internet, to cause offense, for posts on Facebook memorial pages, and one count each of distributing and possessing child pornography when he posted images on the memorial pages of the deceased with phalluses superimposed alongside phrases such as "Woot I'm dead".[101][102]


Disabling of user accounts

There have been complaints of user accounts easily being mistakenly disabled for violating Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. The disabling is often automated and can be easily triggered by a user filing a report on an account, regardless of whether or not the report is legitimate.[103][104] Once Facebook disables an account, whether it does so for unconfirmed reasons or a suspicion that something may be awry, it is impossible to reinstate the account, partly due to lack of in-person support and partly because any attempt to do so sends the account holder into a closed loop.[citation needed]

Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities is often misleading. For example, it states that joining a school network is not a requirement, even though users are often disabled for not joining a school network.[105] Facebook has disabled user accounts for having names deemed to be fake despite being real.[106] Once an account is disabled, it can no longer be logged into and all public traces of it disappear.[107]

There have also been instances of user accounts being memorialized, even though the person listed on the profile was not deceased.[108][109]

Enabling of Harassment

Facebook instituted a policy by which it is now self-policed by the community of Facebook users. Some users have complained that this policy allows Facebook to empower abusive users to harass them by allowing them to submit reports on even benign comments and photos as being "offensive" or "in violation of Facebook Rights and Responsibilities" and that enough of these reports result in the user who is being harassed in this way getting their account blocked for a predetermined number of days or weeks, or even deactivated entirely.[110][111] In addition, Facebook does not ban the IPs of users who have proven to create multiple accounts for the purposes of trolling or stalking others, thereby enabling the harasser, even if they do have one of the offending accounts deactivated, to simply create another one and continue the harassment with no lasting consequences.[112]

Lack of customer support

Facebook lacks live support, making it difficult to resolve issues that require the services of an administrator or are not covered in the FAQs, such as the enabling of a disabled account.[113] The automated emailing system used when filling out a support form often refers users back to the help center or to pages that are outdated and cannot be accessed, leaving users at a dead end with no further support available.[114]

Downtime and outages

Facebook has had a number of outages and downtime large enough to draw some media attention. A 2007 outage resulted in a security hole that enabled some users to read other users' personal mail.[115] In 2008, the site was inaccessible for about a day, from many locations in many countries.[116] In spite of these occurrences, a report issued by Pingdom found that Facebook had less downtime in 2008 than most social networking websites.[117] On September 16, 2009, Facebook started having major problems with loading when people signed in. On September 18, 2009, Facebook went down for the second time in 2009, the first time being when a group of hackers were deliberately trying to drown out a political speaker who had social networking problems from continuously speaking against the Iranian election results.[118] On August 10, 2011 Facebook was in-accessible.[citation needed]

In October 2009, an unspecified number of Facebook users were unable to access their accounts for over three weeks.[119][120][121][122][123] On September 23, 2010, nobody within the UK, US, and Latin America could log in to Facebook. Facebook quoted a DNS failure.[citation needed]


September 2008

In September 2008, Facebook permanently moved its users to what they termed the "New Facebook" or Facebook 3.0.[124] This version contained several different features and a complete layout redesign. Between July and September, users had been given the option to use the new Facebook in place of the original design,[125] or to return to the old design.

Facebook's decision to migrate their users was met with some controversy in their community. Several groups started opposing the decision, some with over a million users.[126]

October 2009

In October 2009, Facebook redesigned the news feed so that the user could view all types of things that their friends were involved with. In a statement, they said,

Stores your applications generate can show up in both views. The best way for your stories to appear in the News Feed filter is to create stories that are highly engaging, as high quality, interesting stories are most likely to garner likes and comments by the user's friends.[127]

This redesign was explained as:

News Feed will focus on popular content, determined by an algorithm based on interest in that story, including the number of times an item is liked or commented on. Live Feed will display all recent stories from a large number of a user's friends.[127]

The redesign was met immediately with criticism with users, many who did not like the amount of information that was coming at them. This was also compounded by the fact that people couldn't select what they saw. Immediately, groups formed, one getting over 1,600,000 within the first two weeks of the update.[128]

November/December 2009

In November 2009, Facebook issued a proposed new privacy policy, and adopted it unaltered in December 2009. They combined this with a rollout of new privacy settings. This new policy declared certain information, including "lists of friends", to be "publicly available", with no privacy settings; it was previously possible to keep access to this information restricted. Due to this change, the users who had set their "list of friends" as private were forced to make it public without even being informed, and the option to make it private again was removed.[129] This was protested by many people and privacy organizations such as the EFF.[130]

The change was described by Gawker as Facebook's Great Betrayal,[131] forcing user profile photos and friends lists to be visible in users' public listing, even for users who had explicitly chosen to hide this information previously,[132] and making photos and personal information public unless users were proactive about limiting access.[133] For example, a user whose "Family and Relationships" information was set to be viewable by "Friends Only" would default to being viewable by "Everyone" (publicly viewable). That is, information such as the gender of partner you are interested in, relationship status, and family relations became viewable to those even without a Facebook account. Facebook was heavily criticized[134] for both reducing its users' privacy and pushing users to remove privacy protections. Groups criticizing the changes include the Electronic Frontier Foundation[132] and American Civil Liberties Union.[135] Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, had hundreds of personal photos and his events calendar exposed in the transition.[136] Facebook has since re-included an option to hide friends lists from being viewable; however, this preference is no longer listed with other privacy settings, and the former ability to hide the friends list from selected people among one's own friends is no longer possible.[137] Journalist Dan Gillmor deleted his Facebook account over the changes, stating he "can't entirely trust Facebook"[138] and Heidi Moore at Slate's Big Money temporarily deactivated her account as a "conscientious objection".[139] Other journalists have been similarly disappointed and outraged by the changes.[131] Defending the changes, founder Mark Zuckerberg said "we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it".[140] The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada launched another investigation into Facebook's privacy policies after complaints following the change.[141]

Tracking Cookies

Facebook has been criticised heavily for 'tracking' users, even when logged out of the site. Australian technologist Nik Cubrilovic discovered that when a user logs out of Facebook, the cookies from that login are still kept in the browser, allowing Facebook to track users on websites that include "social widgets" distributed by the social network. Facebook has denied the claims, saying they have 'no interest' in tracking users or their activity. They also promised after the discovery of the cookies that they would remove them, saying they will no longer have them on the site. A group of users in the United States have sued Facebook for breaching privacy laws.[citation needed]

Censorship controversies

The warning box that appears when Internet users try to view censored or blocked content on Facebook

Search function

Facebook's search function has been accused of preventing users from searching for certain terms. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch has written about Facebook's possible censorship of "Ron Paul" as a search term.'s Facebook group for organizing protests against privacy violations could for a time not be found by searching. The very word privacy was also restricted.[142] Facebook claimed that the problem was a bug.

Breastfeeding photos

Facebook has been criticized for removing photos uploaded by mothers of themselves breastfeeding their babies and also canceling their Facebook accounts.[143] Although photos that show an exposed breast violate Facebook's decency code, even when the baby covered the nipple, Facebook took several days to respond to calls to deactivate a paid advertisement for a dating service that used a photo of a topless model.[144]

The breastfeeding photos controversy continued following public protests and the growth in the online membership in the Facebook group titled "Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene! (Official petition to Facebook)."[145]

Censorship of editorial content

On February 4, 2010, a number of Facebook groups against the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) were removed without any reason given.[146] The DAB is one of the largest pro-Beijing political parties in Hong Kong. The affected groups have since been restored.

On May 21, 2010, Facebook disabled the account of Sulphur Springs, Texas radio station KNOI after it posted editorial comments critical of Facebook's privacy policies and shared links to articles about Leo Laporte's decision to delete his own Facebook account.[147]

Accusation of politically biased granting of group upgrades

In May 2011, Facebook announced that in the coming months it will be "archiving" all groups in the old format, part of the consequence of which is losing all the existing members of a group, which would effectively destroy many groups, forcing them to re-acquire members from scratch. A few groups have been given an option to "upgrade" to the new groups format, which keeps the members, but the criteria for determining whether a group is offered this "upgrade" are unknown. Some groups have had success in getting this upgrade by having activity in their group, while others have not. One article has claimed an empirical observation that disproportionately more "liberal" groups have been able to upgrade than "conservative" groups, leading to accusations of potential political bias, or of politically motivated censorship of conservative groups.[148]

Student-related issues

Student privacy concerns

Students who post illegal or otherwise inappropriate material have faced disciplinary action from their universities, including expulsion.[149] Others posting libelous content relating to faculty have also faced disciplinary action.[150]

Effect on higher education

On January 23, 2006, The Chronicle of Higher Education continued an ongoing national debate on social networks with an opinion piece written by Michael Bugeja, director of the Journalism School at Iowa State University, entitled "Facing the Facebook".[151] Bugeja, author of the Oxford University Press text Interpersonal Divide (2005), quoted representatives of the American Association of University Professors and colleagues in higher education to document the distraction of students using Facebook and other social networks during class and at other venues in the wireless campus. Bugeja followed up on January 26, 2007 in The Chronicle with an article titled "Distractions in the Wireless Classroom",[152] quoting several educators across the country who were banning laptops in the classroom. Similarly, organisations such as the National Association for Campus Activities,[153] the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication,[154] and others have hosted seminars and presentations to discuss ramifications of students' use of Facebook and other social networking systems.

The EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative has also released a brief pamphlet entitled "7 Things You Should Know About Facebook" aimed at higher education professionals that "describes what [Facebook] is, where it is going, and why it matters to teaching and learning".[155]

Some research[citation needed] on Facebook in higher education suggests that there may be some small educational benefits associated with student Facebook use, including improving engagement which is related to student retention.[156] Furthermore, using technologies such as Facebook to connect with others can help college students be less depressed and cope with feelings of loneliness and homesickness.[157] According to one case study, students surveyed who were regular facebook users had, on average, lower grades than those who were not.[158]

Third-party responses to Facebook

Government censorship

Several countries have banned access to it including Syria,[159] China,[160] Iran,[161] and Vietnam.[162]

In 2010, Facebook reportedly allowed an objectionable page, deemed by the Islamic Lawyers Forum, to be anti-Muslim. The "ILF" filed a petition with Pakistan's Lahore High Court. On May 18, 2010, Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry ordered Pakistan's Telecommunication Authority to block access to Facebook until May 31. The offensive page had provoked street demonstrations in Muslim countries due to visual depictions of Mohammed, which are regarded as blasphemous by Muslims.[163][164] A spokesman said Pakistan Telecommunication Authority would move to implement the ban once the order has been issued by the Ministry of Information and Technology. "We will implement the order as soon as we get the instructions", Khurram Mehran told AFP. "We have already blocked the URL link and issued instruction to Internet service providers yesterday", he added. Rai Bashir told AFP that "We moved the petition in the wake of widespread resentment in the Muslim community against the Facebook contents". The petition called on the government of Pakistan to lodge a strong protest with the owners of Facebook, he added. Bashir said a PTA official told the judge his organisation had blocked the page, but the court ordered a total ban on the site. People demonstrated outside court in the eastern city of Lahore, Pakistan, carrying banners condemning Facebook. Protests in Pakistan on a larger scale took place after the ban and widespread news of that objectionable page. The ban was lifted on May 31 after Facebook reportedly assured the Lahore High Court that it would remedy the issues in dispute.[165][166][167]

In 2011, a court in Pakistan was petitioned to place a permanent ban on Facebook for hosting a page called "2nd Annual Draw Muhammad Day May 20th 2011."[168][169]

Organizations blocking access

Ontario government employees, Federal public servants, MPPs, and cabinet ministers were blocked from access to Facebook on government computers in May 2007.[170] When the employees tried to access Facebook, a warning message "The Internet website that you have requested has been deemed unacceptable for use for government business purposes". This warning also appears when employees try to access YouTube, MySpace, gambling or pornographic websites.[171] However, innovative employees have found ways around such protocols, and many claim to use the site for political or work-related purposes.[172]

A number of local governments including those in the UK[173] and Finland [174] imposed restrictions on the use of Facebook in the workplace due to the technical strain incurred. Other government-related agencies, such as the US Marine Corps have imposed similar restrictions.[175]

A number of hospitals in Finland have also restricted Facebook use citing privacy concerns.[176][177]

Employees of Broward County, Florida have been blocked from accessing Facebook and most social networking and blog sites since 2009.

Schools blocking access

The University of New Mexico (UNM) in October 2005 blocked access to Facebook from UNM campus computers and networks, citing unsolicited e-mails and a similar site called UNM Facebook.[178] After a UNM user signed into Facebook from off campus, a message from Facebook said, "We are working with the UNM administration to lift the block and have explained that it was instituted based on erroneous information, but they have not yet committed to restore your access." UNM, in a message to students who tried to access the site from the UNM network, wrote, "This site is temporarily unavailable while UNM and the site owners work out procedural issues. The site is in violation of UNM's Acceptable Computer Use Policy for abusing computing resources (e.g., spamming, trademark infringement, etc). The site forces use of UNM credentials (e.g., NetID or email address) for non-UNM business." However, after Facebook created an encrypted login and displayed a precautionary message not to use university passwords for access, UNM unblocked access the following spring semester.[179]

The Columbus Dispatch reported on June 22, 2006, that Kent State University's athletic director had planned to ban the use of Facebook by athletes and gave them until August 1 to delete their accounts.[180] On July 5, 2006, the Daily Kent Stater reported that the director reversed the decision after reviewing the privacy settings of Facebook.[citation needed]

Closed social networks

Several web sites concerned with social networking, such as and salesforce have criticized the lack of information that users get when they share data. Advanced users cannot limit the amount of information anyone can access in their profiles, but Facebook promotes the sharing of personal information for marketing purposes, leading to the promotion of the service using personal data from users who are not fully aware of this. Facebook exposes personal data, without supporting open standards for data interchange.[181] According to several communities [182] and authors [183] closed social networking, on the other hand, promotes data retrieval from other people while not exposing one's personal information.

Openbook was established in early 2010 both as a parody of Facebook and a critique of its changing privacy management protocols.[184]

Class action lawsuit

On November 17, 2009, Rebecca Swift, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, filed a class action lawsuit against Zynga Game Network Inc. and Facebook, Inc. in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California for violation of the Unfair competition law and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and for unjust enrichment.[185][186]

Litigation lawsuit

Divya Narendra, Cameron Winklevoss, and Tyler Winklevoss, founders of the social networking website ConnectU, filed a lawsuit against Facebook in September 2004. The lawsuit alleged that Zuckerberg had broken an oral contract to build the social networking site, copied the idea,[187][188] and used source code that they provided to Zuckerberg to create competing site Facebook.[189][190][191][192] Facebook countersued in regards to Social Butterfly, a project put out by The Winklevoss Chang Group, an alleged partnership between ConnectU and i2hub. It named among the defendants ConnectU, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, Divya Narendra, and Wayne Chang, founder of i2hub.[193] The parties reached a settlement agreement in February, 2008, for $20 million in cash and 1,253,326 Facebook shares. On August 26, 2010, The New York Times reported that Facebook shares were trading at $76 per share in the secondary market, putting the total settlement value now at close to $120 million.[194][195]

ConnectU filed another lawsuit against Facebook on March 11, 2008,[196] attempting to rescind the settlement, claiming that Facebook, in settlement negotiations, had overstated the value of stock it was granting the ConnectU founders as part of the settlement. ConnectU argued that Facebook represented itself as being worth $15 billion at the time, due to the post-money valuation arising from Microsoft's purchase in 2007 of a 1.6% stake in Facebook for US $246 million. Facebook announced that valuation in a press release.[197] However, Facebook subsequently performed an internal valuation that estimated a company value of $3.75 billion.[198] ConnectU then fired the law firm Quinn Emanuel that had represented it in settlement discussions. Quinn Emanuel filed a $13 million lien against the settlement proceeds and ConnectU sued for malpractice.[199] On August 25, 2010, an arbitration panel ruled that Quinn Emanuel had "earned its full contingency fee". It also found that Quinn Emanuel committed no malpractice.[200] ConnectU's lawsuit against Facebook to quadruple its settlement remains ongoing.

In January 2010, it was reported that i2hub founder Wayne Chang and The i2hub Organization launched a lawsuit against ConnectU and its founders, Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra, seeking 50% of the settlement. The complaint states "Through this litigation, Chang asserts his ownership interest in The Winklevoss Chang Group and ConnectU, including the settlement proceeds."[201] Lee Gesmer (of Gesmer Updegrove, LLP) posted the detailed 33-page complaint online.[202][203] On April 12, 2011, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled that the Winklevoss brothers, whose fight over Facebook's origins was a major narrative arc of the film The Social Network, cannot back out of a settlement they signed with the company in 2008.

Aaron Greenspan and houseSYSTEM

As the President of the Harvard College Student Entrepreneurship Council (a now-defunct student group) and the CEO of Think Computer Corporation,[204] Aaron Greenspan created a web portal as a Harvard undergraduate called houseSYSTEM that launched on August 1, 2003. Designed to centralize student life in a more user-friendly manner than Harvard's official student portal, my.harvard, houseSYSTEM had a variety of features, including an event calendar with digital RSVP, a photo album, user-uploadable "posters", a teaching feedback system called CriticalMass,[205] an on-line trading post called Student Exchange, and, as of September 19, 2003, a "Universal Face Book", which was also referred to at times as "The Facebook." Greenspan began communicating with fellow classmate Mark Zuckerberg via e-mail shortly after launching the houseSYSTEM Facebook in September after reading a profile of Zuckerberg in The Harvard Crimson news magazine. They met in person in early January 2004, at which point Zuckerberg, as well as future Facebook, Inc. co-founders Dustin Moskovitz, Eduardo Saverin, and Chris Hughes were already houseSYSTEM members. (Cameron Winklevoss and Victor Gao of the ConnectU team were also houseSYSTEM members.) Though Greenspan and Zuckerberg decided to work on their respective projects independently, they frequently discussed technological aspects of houseSYSTEM related to the Facebook, as well as Zuckerberg's unspecified latest project, about which he was secretive, using AOL Instant Messenger.[206] Throughout the spring semester of 2004, Greenspan and Zuckerberg were both enrolled in CS91r (also called Applied Math 91r), a ten-person computer science seminar that focused on using the PHP programming language with voice recognition technology.[207]

On January 11, 2004, a few days after meeting Greenspan and concurrent with using the Universal Face Book on houseSYSTEM, Zuckerberg registered the domain name "" independently.[208] On February 4, 2004, when launched, Greenspan recognized aspects of his own work in the site, and later came to believe that Zuckerberg was copying his work one feature at a time—a claim that Zuckerberg denied. Many of the features Greenspan created for houseSYSTEM, such as the digital event posters, electronic RSVPs, organizational pages, photo album, and marketplace, did eventually appear on under similar names. Zuckerberg was aware of these features, eventually telling Greenspan at one point, "your facenet thing is hot".[209] Social networking functionality was added to houseSYSTEM in March 2004, and the name "FaceNet" replaced the "Universal Face Book". Regarding Greenspan's allegations, Zuckerberg was described in The New York Times as "saying through a spokeswoman that he was not sure how to respond."[210]

In 2008, when Greenspan published a book entitled Authoritas: One Student's Harvard Admissions and the Founding of the Facebook Era describing his side of the story of Facebook's birth as well as events leading up to it (including aggressive actions on behalf of the Harvard University administration),[211] he was prohibited from advertising the book using Google AdWords because of the inclusion of the word "Facebook" in the book's subtitle, and the existence of Facebook, Inc.'s registered trademark on the term "Facebook".[212] The trademark had come into existence two years before in 2006, partially as a defensive measure during a battle over the "" domain name in the ConnectU lawsuit.[213]

Greenspan's company filed a Petition to Cancel the "Facebook" trademark, which included claims of prior use and fraud by Facebook, Inc. against the USPTO.[214] Greenspan represented himself for the majority of the proceedings, and the USPTO TTAB found his claims to be adequate. Facebook, Inc. agreed to a formal settlement with Greenspan in late May, 2009 and issued a press release, but the terms were not disclosed.[215]

Greenspan is incorrectly referred to repeatedly as "Aaron Grossman" in Ben Mezrich's book, The Accidental Billionaires.[216] Greenspan declined to cooperate with Mezrich on the book due to Mezrich's reputation for character distortion and consequently was not included in the resulting screenplay for The Social Network, even though Mezrich cited Authoritas as a source.

Greenspan has written a number of articles critical of Facebook on The Huffington Post.[217]

Paul Ceglia

On June 30, 2010, Paul Ceglia, the owner of a wood pellet fuel company in Allegany County, New York, filed a lawsuit against Zuckerberg, claiming 84% ownership of Facebook as well as additional monetary damages. According to Ceglia, he and Zuckerberg signed a contract on April 28, 2003, that for an initial fee of $1,000, entitles Ceglia to 50% of the website's revenue, as well as additional 1% interest per each day after January 1, 2004, until website completion. Zuckerberg was developing other projects at the time, among which was Facemash, the predecessor of Facebook, but did not register the domain name until January 1, 2004. Facebook management has dismissed the lawsuit as "completely frivolous". Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt issued a statement indicating that the counsel for Ceglia had unsuccessfully attempted to seek an out-of-court settlement. In an interview to ABC World News, Zuckerberg stated he is confident of never signing such an agreement. At the time, Zuckerberg worked for Ceglia as a code developer on a project named "StreetFax". Judge Thomas Brown of Allegany Court issued a restraining order on all financial transfers concerning ownership of Facebook until further notice; in response, Facebook management successfully filed for the case to be moved to federal court. According to Facebook, the order does not affect their business but lacks legal basis.[218][219][220][221][222][223]

Terms of Use controversy

While Facebook originally made changes to its terms of use [224] or, terms of service, on February 4, 2009, the changes went unnoticed until Chris Walters, a blogger for the consumer-oriented blog, The Consumerist, noticed the change on February 15, 2009.[225] Walters complained the change gave Facebook the right to "Do anything they want with your content. Forever."[226] The section under the most controversy is the "User Content Posted on the Site" clause. Before the changes, the clause read:

"You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content."[224]

The "license granted" refers to the license that Facebook has to your "name, likeness, and image" to use in promotions and external advertising.[224] The new terms of use deleted the phrase that states the license would "automatically expire" if a user chose to remove content. By omitting this line, Facebook license extends to adopt users' content perpetually and irrevocably years after the content has been deleted.[225]

Many users of Facebook voiced opinions against the changes to the Facebook Terms of Use, leading to an Internet-wide debate over the ownership of content. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) prepared a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Many individuals were frustrated with the removal of the controversial clause. Facebook users, numbering more than 38,000, joined a user group against the changes, and a number of blogs and news sites have written about this issue.[225]

After the change was brought to light in Walters's blog entry, in his blog on February 16, 2009, Zuckerberg addressed the issues concerning the recently made changes to Facebook's terms of use. Zuckerberg wrote “Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with.”[227] In addition to this statement Zuckerberg explained the paradox created when people want to share their information (phone number, pictures, email address, etc.) with the public, but at the same time desire to remain in complete control of who has access to this info.[127]

In order to calm criticism, Facebook returned to its original terms of use. However, on February 17, 2009, Zuckerberg wrote in his blog, that although Facebook reverted to its original terms of use, it is in the process of developing new terms in order to address the paradox. Zuckerberg stated that these new terms will allow Facebook users to “share and control their information, and it will be written clearly in language everyone can understand.” Zuckerberg invited users to join a group entitled “Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”[228] to give their input and help shape the new terms.

On February 26, 2009, Zuckerberg posted a blog, updating users on the progress of the new Terms of Use. He wrote, “We decided we needed to do things differently and so we're going to develop new policies that will govern our system from the ground up in an open and transparent way.” Zuckerberg introduces the two new additions to Facebook: the Facebook Principles[229] and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities[230] Both additions allow users to vote on changes to the terms of use before they are officially released. Because “Facebook is still in the business of introducing new and therefore potentially disruptive technologies”, Zuckerberg explains, users need to adjust and familiarize themselves with the products before they can adequately show their support.[231]

This new voting system was initially applauded as Facebook’s step to a more democratized social network system.[232] However, the new terms were harshly criticized in a report by computer scientists from the University of Cambridge, who stated that the democratic process surrounding the new terms is disingenuous and significant problems remain in the new terms.[233] The report was endorsed by the Open Rights Group.[234]

In December 2009, EPIC and a number of other US privacy organizations filed another complaint with the Federal Trade Commission regarding Facebook's Terms of Service. In January 2011 EPIC filed a subsequent complaint claiming that Facebook's new policy of sharing users' home address and mobile phone information with third-party developers were "misleading and fail[ed] to provide users clear and privacy protections", particularly for children under age 18.[235] Facebook temporarily suspended implementation of its policy in February 2011, but the following month announced it was "actively considering" reinstating the 3rd party policy.

Interoperability and data portability

Facebook has been criticized for failing to offer users a feature to export their friends' information, such as contact information, for use with other services or software.[236][237][238][239] The inability of users to export their social graph in an open standard format contributes to vendor lock-in and contravenes the principles of data portability.[240] Automated collection of user information without Facebook's consent violates its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities,[241] and third-party attempts to do so (e.g., Web scraping) have resulted in suspension of accounts,[242] cease and desist letters,[243] and litigation with one of the third parties,

Facebook Connect has been criticized for its lack of interoperability with OpenID.[244]

Better Business Bureau review

As of December 2010, the Better Business Bureau gave Facebook an "A" rating"[245][246]

As of December 2010, the 36-month running count of complaints about Facebook logged with the Better Business Bureau is 1136, including 101 ("Making a full refund, as the consumer requested"), 868 ("Agreeing to perform according to their contract"), 1 ("Refuse [sic] to adjust, relying on terms of agreement"), 20 ("Unassigned"), 0 ("Unanswered") and 136 ("Refusing to make an adjustment").[245] Facebook reportedly claimed to the BBB that some customers had received warnings for violations when none were actually sent.[247]


Facebook's software has proven vulnerable to likejacking. On July 28, 2010 the BBC reported that security consultant Ron Bowes used a piece of code to scan Facebook profiles to collect data of 100 million profiles. The data collected was not hidden by the user's privacy settings. Bowes then published the list online. This list, which has been shared as a downloadable file, contains the URL of every searchable Facebook user's profile, their name and unique ID. Bowes said he published the data to highlight privacy issues, but Facebook claimed it was already public information.[248]


In 2010, Prineville, Oregon was chosen as the site for a new Facebook data center.[249] However the center has been met with criticism from environmental groups such as Greenpeace because the power utility company contracted for the center, PacifiCorp, generates 60% of its electricity from coal.[250][251][252] In September 2010, Facebook received a letter from Greenpeace containing half a million signatures asking the company to cut its ties to coal based electricity.[253]


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