ACLU: Facebook-Politico Relationship Presents a Privacy Concern

Two weeks ago Big Government reported that Facebook and Politico created a new partnership to reveal users’ public private messages–if and when they relate to their feelings about a political candidate–will be fed through a ‘sentiment analysis tool’ and potentially reported on Politico.

Conservatives should understandably have concerns about Politico’s upcoming reporting since most Facebook users are young and supportive of Barack Obama–in fact Facebook’s own CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been rumored to be an Obama fan, too.

But now there’s new criticism coming from the left: Christopher Calabrese of the The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Legislative Office posted a blog on January 13th stressing their concerns:

Most troubling is Facebook’s willingness to search and collect users’ private political preferences and thoughts, preferences they may have shared only with their closest friend in a private email.

This raises at least three concerns. The first is that many users may not want to be part of any “sentiment analysis” or poll. For example, they may be a firm supporter of Mitt Romney but find Ron Paul’s ideas interesting. Are they now going to feel hesitant to talk about Paul’s ideas out of awareness that it might be registered as support or boost a candidate they don’t like? Second, we don’t see any mention of user consent anywhere in Facebook’s announcement. How has Facebook decided that users agreed that their personal communications can and should be used in this way?

Finally, what other uses might this information be put to in the future? Will it be used to serve users ads from politicians or manipulate voting preferences in some way? We can see the marketing materials from Facebook now: “Candidates, serve ads to secret supporters! No one knows about their preferences except their closest friends and us.”

The real question here is what are Facebook’s motives? In the wake of its first public offering of an IPO at $5 billion, analysts are saying that the social utility is worth a total of $85 to $100 billion–the biggest Silicon Valley IPO ever. Last year Facebook earned a revenue of $3.71 billion up 88 percent from 2010.

With such stunning financial success, why is such an invasive measure necessary?

As mentioned earlier, Zuckerberg is rumored to be an Obama fan and it’s no secret Facebook data may misrepresent overwhelming support for the 44th president. When that information gets reported to the public via Politico there’s no telling what the impact will be. After all, everyone likes to feel like they’re on the winning side and voting for the candidate with the best chances of winning.

Just how close is Zuckerberg to Obama?

Zuckerberg has met the president on several occasions. Here he is featured having dinner with Obama last February along with several other technology leaders, but it’s Zuckerberg who is sitting right beside the president:

Last April Zuckerberg also led a townhall discussion with the president, and most interesting:

Just after filing with U.S. regulators to take the company public that could make Facebook $28 billion, Zuckerberg participated in an online town hall this morning with none other than the president himself. According, Facebook awarded the IPO responsibilities to the Morgan Stanley financial services firm (the president’s number one campaign contributor is JP Morgan).

Are Zuckerberg’s motives in this instance really financial–or are they political–and do they misrepresent nationwide support for President Obama?