But I'm not on Facebook...

People who choose not to be on social networking sites should have the right not to be on social networking sites - privacy, reputation and control on Facebook.

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Non-users: a brief overview

In 2008, Facebook introduced a feature that gave users the option to view 'Friends without Facebook profiles'.[1]  It is widely assumed that non-user data was gathered from tagged photos or by compiling names from existing users address books or IM lists. According to James Grimmelmann, 'data suction like this... is worrisome, because non-users have never seen Facebook's privacy policies and have had no reasonable chance to opt out'.[2]

Meanwhile in 2009, Canada's Privacy Commissioner investigated a complaint made by CIPPIC (Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic) regarding allegations that Facebook did not seek consent from non-users when their photos were tagged, or their emails were provided by existing users. The Commissioner concluded that 'Facebook had failed to obtain the consent for the use of a non-user's email address for purposes of generating friend suggestions; it had failed to inform non-users of the proposed use of their email address and Facebook had failed to establish a convenient procedure for opting out, prior to the use of a non-user's email address'.[3]

More recently in 2011 the Irish Data Protection Commissioner investigated allegations that Facebook Ireland was creating 'shadow profiles' on both users and non-users.[4]

Of course, as always, in response to public unease, Facebook has adapted its policy towards non-user data. On tagging photos of non-users, Facebook's Help Center now provides the following advice:

'You can tag anyone in a photo, regardless of whether they have a Facebook account. While tagging your photos, if you type in the name of someone who is not one of your Facebook friends, you have the option of listing their email address. When you are done tagging, they will receive an email that provides a link to the image. They will be able to see the photos in which they are tagged, but nothing else on the site unless they register'.[5]

So apparently non users now have the right to see the photos they have been tagged in, yet this policy still leaves much to be desired.

For example, how do individuals without an email address get notified of their presence on Facebook? Where is their right to review their image, to manage their online identity, and reputation? What about when non-users are tagged in video content, do they get to see that data?

But really it's the last point I wish to discuss here, as it's a crucial point. 'They (non-users) will be able to see the photos in which they are tagged, but nothing else on the site unless they register'

So essentially, Facebook policy encourages or coerces us to join Facebook.

Non-users can only untag content they feature in by opting-in to the service, which in some cases is a service many people may have been consciously trying to avoid!

Frustratingly, the optimum way to be aware of and therefore manage your visibility on Facebook is to join Facebook. Arguably we are coerced in to joining Facebook for the purposes of identity and reputation management. Equally many of us are coerced in to remaining on Facebook for the same reason.

[1] http://www.webcitation.org/68xK2XTWw

[2] http://www.webcitation.org/68xIUclvD

[3] http://www.webcitation.org/68xKOZowu

[4] http://www.webcitation.org/68xKRSB19

[5] http://www.freezepage.com/1341583768YVUYBRSDEB

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