New York City street

Facebook talks privacy and data over free hot chocolate at pop-up event in NYC

Image credit: Pexels

The social media giants hosted a one-day pop-up event in New York City’s Bryant Park on Thursday, in hopes of speaking to users about the platform’s privacy settings, ad preferences and other possible concerns they might have, following months of controversy surrounding the company’s data privacy policies.

Luring passers-by out of the cold and into its trailer with the promise of free hot chocolate, amid the park’s holiday market filled with food stalls and a busy ice-skating rink, users were prompted to ask questions about Facebook’s settings and to take away glossy brochures, furnishing them with more information about the company’s data privacy policies.

Ironically, Facebook employees and journalists outnumbered those who visited the pop-up, according to the Associated Press, with the news agency adding that the social media pioneers have held similar events in Dubai, Dublin, London and Cologne in Germany.

Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, told the outlet that users generally want to know who can see “their stuff” and how ads are targeted to them. She also acknowledged that only a few of Facebook’s more than two billion users were likely to stop by, highlighting how she hopes that those who do will “teach others” about what they learn at the event.

For those who did stop by, it was a rare chance to speak to a real person from Facebook about concerns such as being shut out of an account for using an alias, receiving a notification about a login attempt, or seeing what information the social network uses to target them with ads.

People walk by a Facebook "pop-up" trailer in New York's Bryan Park in New York on Thursday 13 December for a one-day event.

People walking by a Facebook “pop-up” trailer in New York’s Bryan Park in New York on Thursday 13 December for a one-day event. - Associated Press

Image credit: Associated Press/Barbara Ortutay

The trailer was outfitted with posters telling users that Facebook doesn’t “sell” their information, with decorators including a few signs usually seen at Facebook offices, such as “be bold” and “always be open.”

Egan acknowledged there is work to do regarding their privacy policies but, when asked to give a letter grade, she granted the company a “B”, and hopes the improvements will result in an “A” by 2019.

Scrutiny over Facebook’s privacy protections first arose after it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal data of millions of Facebook users to be used for political purposes without their consent.

The company, last month, faced a global grilling over its data privacy policies and transparency at a special joint hearing before the House of Commons panel on digital media, with lawmakers tearing into Facebook and slammed CEO Mark Zuckerberg for failing to appear before the panel. 

Furthermore, the social media giants were sued over the exposure of 50 million users’ data in October.

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