Facebook Proposes Privacy Terms Changes for “Suggestions” — Commenting Ends Today

In its first privacy policy update since October, Facebook has rephrased parts of a section around how it makes suggestions. Beyond a couple wording tweaks, the purpose is try to clarify how it is making use of data provided by users to target friends suggestions, photo-tagging recommendations and other feature promotions.

While there doesn’t appear to be anything significantly new in the updated version of the policy (with one exception which we’ll get into below), we believe Facebook is trying to be clearer in order to appease concerned users, privacy advocates — and politicians and governmental bodies that have become increasingly focused on privacy issues.

But, before we get into the details, note that per the company’s longstanding policy of letting users comment before making the change, those interested can comment on the Facebook Site Governance Page.

However, the message appears to have been automatically sorted into the “Other” sub-section of the new Messages inbox for at least some users. That location is designed to collect spam and other unsolicited messages, so we’re not sure how many people have been aware of the change.

The message was sent on December 15th; given the normal seven-day commenting period that Facebook offers users, that means anyone who wants to share their opinion needs to do so by 5:40 pm Pacific Time today.

On to the changes. Here’s the existing version:

To make suggestions. We use your profile information, the addresses you import through our contact importers, and other relevant information, to help you connect with your friends, including making suggestions to you and other users that you connect with on Facebook. For example, if another user imports the same email address as you do, we may suggest that you connect with each other. If you want to limit your visibility in suggestions we make to other people, you can adjust your search visibility privacy setting, as you will only be visible in our suggestions to the extent you choose to be visible in public search listings. You may also block specific individual users from being suggested to you and you from being suggested to them.

And here’s the proposed version:

To make suggestions. We use your information, including the addresses you import through our contact importers, to make suggestions to you and other users on Facebook. For example, if another user imports the same email address as you do, we may suggest that you add each other as friends. Similarly, if one of your friends uploads a picture of you, we may suggest that your friend tag you in the picture. We do this by comparing your friend’s pictures to information we’ve put together from the photos you’ve been tagged in. We may also suggest that you use certain tools and features based on what your friends have used. You can control whether we suggest that another user add you as a friend through your “search for you on Facebook” privacy setting. You can control whether we suggest that another user tag you in a photo using this setting.

For reference, here’s a screenshot of the red-line version available on the Site Governance Page:

The one potentially significant change that we’re seeing here is that Facebook has removed this line: “You may also block specific individual users from being suggested to you and you from being suggested to them.” Many commenters on the document are interpreting the removal to mean that Facebook will no longer allow you to block users from suggestions. It’s not clear if Facebook is making that change or if it’s simply trying to phrase the description more generally. We’re asking the company what its plans are and we’ll update with more information as we get it.