They know when you've been sleeping, 
They know when you're awake. 
They know when you've been good or bad, 
So be good for goodness sake! 

Is Facebook being revealed as a grinch during the holiday season?

Facebook is, in the height of holiday season, being revealed as at least as big a snoop as the Jolly Old Elf or even the NSA (National Security Agency).

In a story on Slate a few days ago it was revealed that Facebook is … analyzing thoughts that we have intentionally chosen not to share.

That’s right: When you start to write something on Facebook, but change your mind and delete it that material does not just disappear. No, Facebook has been scooping it up and analyzing it to study what two FB researchers call "self-censorship."

But what’s to stop Facebook from using all this data for other reasons? For example, to serve us even more highly targeted advertising? That would be a fairly benign result.

As the Slate story points out some people might compare this to the FBI’s ability to turn on a computer webcam without the user’s knowledge to monitor for criminal activity. The difference is that the FBI has to get a warrant for that kind of surveillance. In Facebook’s case no warrant is needed.

The Facebook researchers say that decreasing self-censorship is a goal of the social network because such censorship decreases the quantity of content (and thereby the quantity of researchable data) publicly on the platform.

But the bigger question this brings up is: Can Facebook be trusted? History would tend to suggest it cannot.

Under Facebook’s Data Use Policy, there is a section called "Information we receive and how it is used." This makes clear that the company collects information you choose to share or when you view or otherwise interact with things. But nothing suggests that it collects content you explicitly don’t share.

So what do we, as users, do about this? The likely answer is: Nothing except maybe think twice before typing in anything on Facebook.

Several studies have indicated that any concern about trust may be limited to older users of Facebook.

Data collected by MDG Advertising from the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, Anonymizer, Harris Interactive, MSNBC and The Ponemon Institute shows that overall "2 out of 3 active online users do not trust" the social media sites they are using. These numbers are based on users of all ages.

Click on the graphic to see the full report and infographic.

Do we trust online sites we use?
 

On the other hand a 2012 survey conducted by YouGov in Britain (and finding similar data to older surveys in the United States and elsewhere) found that the younger users of online services such as a social media site are more likely to trust that online service.

Click on the graphic to see the full report and infographic.

Online trust changes with age


All of which underscores that these latest revelations will make older users of Facebook are more likely to be concerned about privacy and it make very little difference for younger users.

What do you think? Should a social media platform be completely transparent about what information it is looking at and how that information is being used?