And here’s what it all means:
- The person icon is you, the user. Green means you have access to your own data. Anything Facebook collects on you, you can see and get a copy of.
- Not all green is good. The green circle around the paper icon means Facebook is collecting and using more information on you than it requires in order to function. Why? See the next icon.
- Red around the arrows means that Facebook is promiscuous with your privacy. It’s selling or trading your deets with unknown others. This may be a bit too vague. I know that Facebook is trying to figure out some broad demographic info on me in order to target ads, and I’m okay with being placed in a “Canadian male, 25-38 silo” or whatnot for that purpose. But who else is getting my info, and does it identify me personally? Perhaps this icon is too simplified.
- The next icon is another bad kind of green: red around the lock would have meant that Facebook encrypts your data to stop hackers or anyone else from getting at it. They don’t.
- Finally, here’s a pretty serious one: red around the badge means that Facebook doesn’t protect your info from cops or other law enforcement agencies to the fullest extent possible. Any website has to hand over your info to authorities under certain circumstances, warrants being among them. But many websites reserve the right to voluntarily pass on your info to the fuzz if they feel like it. That’s how Facebook rolls.
These icons might need some fine-tuning, but they’re a fantastic starting-point. We desperately need a shorthand for privacy online. The only problem is that there’s no real reason for a website to use this code if it tells users anything negative or troubling about their business. Best to leave those needles in a 5000+ word haystack.
Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown