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Understanding Privacy in the New Year
By: Jessica Cherok
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Now is the time of year when people start to reassess their habits and make New Year’s resolutions. Just like every commitment to starting anew in other areas, it’s time to brush up on your current settings or start anew in your online privacy.

Even Facebook — if you have had a chance to notice over this holiday season — has asked you to look at how your information is shared, and with whom. These settings are even more important considering all of the recent changes made between Facebook and its affiliates like Instagram. Are you well-versed in exactly what information can be shared or sold?

The changes to Facebook’s Data Use Policy and its User Rights and Responsibilities went through thanks to a low showing in user voting. Conversely, Instagram’s proposed changes to its Terms of Service were reversed less than 24 hours of the initial announcement. So, where does that leave us, the users?

Perhaps ironically, just as much as social media subjugates user privacy, it allows the user a loud and undeniable voice in changes. But why was there such a little showing in the Facebook vote, but near-total outrage toward Instagram?

Plain and simple: It came down to how understandable the terminology was.

While Facebook’s changes were similar to the proposed Instagram changes, Facebook made clear — in simple and easy-to-understand language — that it was within their affiliate network and in combination with user consent. Instagram, however, left a lot of ambiguity in their TOS.

And by a lot of ambiguity, we mean A LOT.

The way the original proposed changes were written made it sound like Instagram could sell our pictures to anyone, anywhere, and at any time without our permission whatsoever. While this isn’t at all what Instagram meant, it is certainly what it sounded like, and the majority of users don’t have the legal expertise to decipher convoluted legalese.

So where exactly do your privacy settings stand now?

Well, it depends on you. If you are one of the many that deleted your Instagram account, you need not worry about their revised TOS, though their new TOS and explanation are worth a second look. And regardless of whether you voted or not in the changes to Facebook’s Data Use and User Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, you should definitely peruse the changes.

No matter what your involvement — heavy or causal — it is definitely in your best interest to make the scope of your privacy settings part of your New Year’s resolution.

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About the Author
Jessica Cherok is an advocate for online privacy, campaigning for ethical data practices and the protection of personal privacy.
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