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Terms of Use: What's changing on Facebook?


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The Bundestag summons company representatives, users have been posting strange pictures on their timelines for weeks and the data protectionists are wagging their forefingers: Once again, it is about Facebook's new terms of use and data usage guidelines. They will be made mandatory today, Friday: Anyone who uses Facebook from now on automatically agrees to them. We explain here what changes, what it means and how you can perhaps defend yourself against it.

What is changing on Facebook?

So far, Facebook has created the advertising profiles of its users in Germany primarily on the basis of behavior in the social network. If you share something or like it, Facebook feeds it with your preferences. In the future, the platform would like to evaluate usage behavior even more thoroughly. The biggest change is to allow Facebook to track users across multiple websites and apps on the web.

Via the button that many websites (including ZEIT ONLINE, after activation by the user) now use, Facebook can evaluate the personal ID of each profile across multiple pages. For example, if you are logged into Facebook and surfing sports portals on the side, you are telling Facebook that you are probably a sports fan. The network can use this information to place targeted advertising on offers from the sports and leisure sector in the future. And that should happen not only on Facebook itself, but also on partner sites that use Facebook's new advertising network Atlas.

What about location data?

Facebook would also like to process them more. The company finds out where users are currently via GPS and the Facebook app. In the future, they could receive advertisements from shops, restaurants or attractions nearby. Friends nearby are also shown - but only if they want to. Facebook does not automatically share the location with other users. Data from other Facebook services such as WhatsApp or Instagram should not initially be shared with those of the parent network.

How does it all work?

Many websites and services use so-called cookies. When they visit, they save small pieces of information about visitors, for example information about the operating system and browser. However, they have one disadvantage: they are only saved on one device at a time. With Atlas, however, Facebook wants to evaluate users across platforms. Therefore, in addition to cookies, active logins from Facebook or individual identification and device numbers of apps and smartphones can also be linked. So if you visit a travel portal on your computer and then log into the Airbnb app on your smartphone with your Facebook account, you show the network that you are obviously planning a vacation.

Why is Facebook doing this?

Facebook makes money with advertisements, more and more of them on smartphones. The more targeted the advertising is for each individual user, the higher the likelihood that they will click on it. That is why the company wants to display advertising that is as personalized as possible. And for that it needs data. Since cookies are not really an option on smartphones, Facebook is looking for new opportunities for itself and its advertisers.

Are the changes bad?

Anyone who already uses Facebook accepts the use of their data, which is already being evaluated in the background for many different and not always transparent services. The difference to the new changes: While before everyone on Facebook could decide what to publish or share, Facebook will watch much more often in the future. More everyday user data is unconsciously incorporated, because theoretically every visit to an external website or the use of a third-party app could transmit data to Facebook. Even those who operate a Facebook profile under a false name and without personal data could share their personal preferences and thus personal information with Facebook through their surfing behavior. The critics see this as a serious invasion of privacy.

What do the privacy advocates say?

Originally, Facebook wanted to introduce the changes as early as January 1st. In response to criticism from data protectionists in Europe, they postponed the start. However, nothing has changed due to the postponement, which is why data protectionists and politicians continue to warn. The privacy advocate Frank Spaeing criticizes the fact that Facebook has been granting itself ever more extensive rights to changes in the terms of use for years. Others are of the opinion that the data collection should be activated or deactivated individually by the user. The lawyer Christian Solmecke writes that a change to the terms and conditions without the specific consent of the users and without reservation of changes would be illegal in Germany.