Facebook is "deliberately killing privacy", says Schneier

Security expert hits out at social networking site and others for trading in privacy for profit

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Social networking websites are "deliberately killing privacy" in order to make a profit, according to renowned security author Bruce Schneier.

Speaking at the RSA Europe security conference in London on Tuesday, the BT Counterpane CTO cited Facebook as the most heinous example of social networks cashing in on users' openness toward sharing personal details. "Don't make the mistake of thinking you're Facebook's customer, you're not – you're the product," Schneier said. "Its customers are the advertisers."

Schneier said that governments must introduce "broader" information security and privacy laws that limit how data shared online can be used in a commercial context.

Presently, he explained, the pace of technlogical change means some legislation dates quickly. "Generally, laws are written about specific technologies," Schneier said. "When those laws were written, people weren't thinking 'how is this going to be different in ten years?'"

The US author also lamented that online social networking had led to the death of the "ephemeral conversation", as anything said by an individual - or about them - is recorded permanently in their "digital footprint", and can later be used against them. "Forgetting is a very powerful social tool that helps us get by and get along," Schneier observed. "Your Facebook page will still be there after you die."

Schneier is not the first to criticise Facebook over its attitude to user privacy. In May 2010, US consumer watchdog the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, along with several other rights groups, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over changes Facebook made to its privacy settings. The changes were perceived as encouraging users to be more open with sharing data.

In January of this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg controversially remarked that the notion of privacy is changing. “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people,” he said. “That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”