The Secure Times

An online forum of the ABA Section of Antitrust Law's Privacy and Information Security Committee

You’ve Got (Facebook) Mail: Privacy Issues Not Addressed During Conference Announcing New Messaging Service

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It had been widely anticipated that Facebook would announce today a Facebook email service, similar to gmail.com or yahoo.com. Almost, but not quite.

Instead, Mark Zuckerberg, who founded the company, announced today at a conference, which was broadcast live on Facebook,  a new Facebook messaging service designed to  allow users to “seamlessly integrate” all the messages they send across the different channels , texts and SMS, emails, and IMs.  As Mr. Zuckerberg described it, “it is a messaging system that includes email as part of it.” Mr. Zuckerberg was careful to point out that it is not a Facebook email messaging service, nor was it designed to rival Gmail.  Actually, according to the founder of Facebook,the modern messaging system will not be email.

From Facebook’s blog:

You decide how you want to talk to your friends: via SMS, chat, email or Messages. They will receive your message through whatever medium or device is convenient for them, and you can both have a conversation in real time.  You shouldn’t have to remember who prefers IM over email or worry about which technology to use.  Simply choose their name and type a message.”

Some features of the new product resemble email. Indeed, Facebook will provide an email address, yournameonfacebook@facebook.com . Users will be able to send and to receive messages to and from everybody, regardless of whether people are their “friends” or even Facebook’s users. Users will be able to forward messages, and add people to a conversational thread. The system will support sending file attachments.

This new service will be introduced gradually in the next months, and will be offered first by invitation only. Its privacy policy is thus not available yet. Even before the announcement, The Washington Post wondered if Facebook e-mail was a brilliant idea or a privacy concern.

The email service provided by Facebook will be integrated in the user’s account, and Mr. Zuckerberg noted that synching this service with other email systems “is on the roadmap.” How will the privacy of the messages sent through this new messaging service be protected? This was not specifically addressed during the press conference.  

However, answering a question from the audience, Mr. Zuckerberg said that the new service will not target advertisements based on the content of the message. Also, people will be able to decide which information will not be stored.

One remembers that, when Google unveiled in February 2010, Buzz, its social networking service, it opted-in all Gmail users to Buzz, and allegedly made private data belonging to Gmail users publicly available without their knowledge or authorization, leading to a class action privacy lawsuit.

It remains to be seen if users will be satisfied that the level of privacy and controls offered by this new service is sufficient for them to entrust it with all their daily messages.  

 

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Author: marieandreeweiss

Marie-Andrée was educated in France and in the United States, and holds law degrees from both countries. She is fully bilingual English-French, and writes articles regularly in these two languages on various privacy-related topics. Marie-Andrée is a member of the Bar of the State of New York. As an attorney in solo practice, she focuses on intellectual property, First Amendment, privacy, and Internet-related issues. Before becoming an attorney, she worked several years in the fashion retail industry, as a buyer then a director of marketing. She is a member of the New York State Bar Association (Intellectual Property Section and International Section), and of the American Bar Association (Business Law Section, Section of Antitrust Law, and Section of Intellectual Property Law)

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