If there’s one subject that’s really hot right now on the web, it’s privacy. There’s the whole Facebook saga, and especially the company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, seems somewhat averse to the concept of privacy. We also have a much smaller issue with the Chrome web browser, where someone found out zoom settings are stored somewhere, even when in incognito mode. It turned out to be a feature (sort of) but it does highlight how important the concept of privacy on the web has become.
The facebook privacy saga is long and complicated, but luckily, ChannelWeb has a nice chronological slide show that details it all pretty well. What the slides do not contain is the already infamous instant messaging conversation between Zuckerberg and one of his friends, during the very early days of Facebook. It doesn’t seem like he took privacy very seriously back then either.
It seems the privacy problems at Facebook are causing serious discord within the company, according to The Wall Street Journal. The WSJ claims that while Facebook’s employees want to make users’ data more private, Zuckerberg believes users should be more open. Apparently, Zuckerberg has at times overruled the decisions of his employees regarding privacy – in a bad way.
Right now, Facebook is working on a simplified privacy panel, and considering how hopelessly complex the current one is, that’s a pretty good idea. Facebook’s head of public policy Tim Sparapani stated ina radio interview they’re looking to launch “simplistic” privacy choices soon.
“Now we’ve heard from our users that we have gotten a little bit complex,” Sparapani said in a radio interview, “I think we are going to work on that. We are going to be providing options for users who want simplistic bands of privacy that they can choose from and I think we will see that in the next couple of weeks.”
Yes, I am on Facebook too, but I am not concerned about these privacy problems at all – simply because I treat the web like I treat any public space. If I go to a restaurant with my closest friends, I won’t be discussing my most intimate details with them there. No, I discuss those matters at home, in a private setting – most certainly not in a public space. I treat Facebook and the rest of the web in the same way: a public space, because, well, that’s what it is.
I find it incredibly ignorant and short-sighted that people think they can leave their privacy in the hands of companies. Companies need to make money, and your personal information is invaluable to them. This doesn’t make their behaviour right, but it’s a classic case of the scorpion, the frog, and the river. It’s in companies’ natures to abuse your rights, because your rights are at odds with their goals.
Chrome had a little privacy issue as well the past few days – if you can even call it that, though, as it actually wasn’t a privacy issue at all. Someone discovered that the zoom level in Chrome/Chromium was remembered between sessions, even while in incognito mode. This caused quite the stir on Slashdot, but luckily, there really isn’t anything nefarious going on, and the issue has already been fixed, as Chromium developer pkasting explains.
“We originally wrote zoom levels to be dropped on exit from incognito. However, when adding support for other content controls in 4.1 (e.g. JS, plugins, etc.), we ran into the problem that all of these are listed in a prefs window, and there’s a pretty clear expectation that if you manually go and change a pref, that change persists outside incognito mode,” he explains, “Because all the UI for these is tied under the hood to prefs, we then decided that the most consistent behavior would be for the browser to preserve, rather than forget, changes like these.”
What then happened was that the hosts with non-default settings were stored in your preferences file in plain text. Luckily though, there is no information in there regarding when, where, and how, and since there’s no user interface for per-host settings, you’d have to open the preference file by hand to find said information.
Still, this isn’t an ideal solution, of course, since while this behaviour may be consistent from a settings panel point of view, it isn’t consistent with the idea of browsing incognito. As such, the Chromium team have come up with a solution, fixing this particular issue.
“In my view, this was a bit of a tempest in a teapot, and I’m disappointed with the various comments I’ve seen that ascribe this to some sort of desire to track user behaviors or lie to users about what’s happening in incognito mode,” pkasting writes, “Part of the reason Chrome is open source and developed publicly is so that you don’t have to take our word that we care deeply about our users and didn’t design Chrome as some sort of secretive data collection vehicle.”
The power of open source. Try this with Safari, Opera, or Internet Explorer. This is one of the main reasons to use an open source browser.