Canadian Group Says People Are Too Stupid To Use Facebook… And It's Facebook's Fault

from the more-trouble-for-Facebook dept

Facebook seems to be getting attacked from all sides these days. The latest is a Canadian group alleging that Facebook violates all sorts of privacy laws in Canada. The basic complaint seems to be that the site collects info on its users and shares them with others without the users’ permission. However, if you look through the details, what the group really seems to be saying is that people are simply too stupid to understand what they’re revealing to Facebook — and therefore Facebook needs to be punished until it better educates people. There’s a fine line between consumer protection and simply blaming companies for users not understanding what they’re doing. And, in fact, even then it seems to be quite a stretch to suggest that most users don’t understand what kind of information they’re giving Facebook or what’s being done with it. This seems like yet another attempt to just blame Facebook for absolutely nothing.

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Comments on “Canadian Group Says People Are Too Stupid To Use Facebook… And It's Facebook's Fault”

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scotiaman says:


Actually, as i understand PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act), which is a relatively new law in Canada, there are a couple of tenets which have to be observed when collecting personal information from Canadians:

– the information cannot be stored “indefinitely” (not sure that applies here)
– it must be made clear at the time of collection what the information is to be used for
– if the uses of that information are to change, the user must be made aware and grant addition consent

I’m not a Facebook user, but it seems to me that laws like the above would be useful in preventing a company from selling your information to advertisers without your consent, logging and selling your click-through information, etc.

This is not “blaming Facebook” for anything – it is asking them to be compliant with the law in a country where they do business. If they are not making their intentions for the use of personal info clear at the time that is it collected, or using a “the terms of this agreement are subject to change” cop out, then they are violating PIPEDA.

PaulT (profile) says:


When you add anything to Facebook, be it your profile, photos or 3rd party applications, you are presented with choices about who to make the information visible to (just your friends, friends and members of your networks, or anyone). The options are pretty straightforward, and can be changed at any time.

This definitely complies with the second 2 points you listed.

However, the gist of the article is really this quote:

“Some 14-year-old kid might not know that privacy settings exist or how to take advantage of them or appreciate the ramifications of having their private information disclosed to third parties.”

In other words, some kids are not reading the options on the screen properly and therefore Facebook might not be honouring their wishes. I fail to see how this is Facebook’s fault – again, I don’t see how you could “not know the privacy settings exist” since they’re presented to you on a separate screen every time you add a profile or certain additional content.

LD says:


You are 100% wrong.

When you join a network you are not directed to the privacy settings screen to change back all the settings that were just changed to “share” automatically upon joining.

You are not explicitly told your personal information is going to be used for targeted advertising.

You have no choice but to consent to sharing ALL your personal information when you add an application. Try telling a kid that wants to play tetris that he shouldnt consent to giving all his personal information to some stranger.

Even if you dont install an application, if a friend installed an application, that application can also access YOUR information. If you want to change this you have to go to advanced options which are not obvious.

Even after you close your account, facebook still retains your information for an indefinite amount of time.

You may think that your profile is completely secure because you have set your profile settings to only be shared with friends; yet, if someone else links to your photo with a tag or post, all their friends will be able to see your photo… unless you further change photo sharing privileges.

If you have ever logged onto facebook mobile on someone else’s phone and didnt log out, then they can still be accessing your account. EVEN IF you change your password or deactivate your account and reactivate it. There is nothing you can do! The cookie is indefinite.

The complaint is not saying that facebook is bad or that it should not be used. It is simnply saying that they should make some adjustments to ensure that EVERYONE’s personal information is being protect.

Is that alright with you? Bravo to you for understanding facbook, but some people overlook certain privacy settings and think that the default settings should be for sharing with only FRIENDS, not all 400,000 people in your city network. Is that cool with you guys? Some people want to share photos with friends, not have ads targeted at them because they are 14 and have a certain sexual preference. Some people want to read the horoscope without providing all of their personal information to some complete stranger with no restrictions on how they can use it.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: PIPEDA:Back to being stupid are we?

Let’s see now a collection of law students puts this complaint together and cites PIPEDA as the governing law.


But let’s get back to the point here. What they are implying is that Facebook users are too many bricks short of a load to understand that Facebook is all about sharing information and that you better well be sure that anything you put up there is something you want your grandmother to know about.

There are legitimate concerns here under the letter of the law or, perhaps, even the intent of the law but still, it amounts to saying that we’re all too dense to figure it out for ourselves using the mythical 14 year old as the example.

What bothers me about do gooders is this assumption that I must have an IQ in single digits while they are all so much brighter and they feel, in some kind of misguided nobless obilgue to defend me from myself.

Please go find yourself another Canuck to defend, will you?

Between people like you and the NDP I’ve had about all I can take of the smothering nanny state you want to create.


John (pissed off)

Anonymous Coward says:

While it’s true that the basic privacy issue is not FB’s fault, they DO have a point with people being stupid.

Most regular folks don’t seem to understand that any information they post on the web can be spread, backed-up and otherwise duplicated infinitely, no matter what their expectations of privacy are.

Once information is on the internet, nobody owns it anymore – it is by nature impossible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Typically Canadian

“I’m a Canadian citizen, and this type of thing is quintisentially Canadian. There’s a cloying nanny mentality that will soon convince the pollies that they have to “do something” to “protect the children”.”

Well, I’m Canadian too, and I read about this “protect the children” attitude a lot more coming from american media, especially the conservative types…

Anonymous Coward says:


Are you forgetting that Facebook allows anyone over the age of 13 to join. Is there not a chance that a young user may not get it regardless of whether or not they are “stupid”?

I believe that you are missing the point of the complaint. Although Facebook privacy measures may be sufficient to some, they do not ensure to protect to lowest common denominator.

I am not sure if you are a facebook user, but the current privacy settings are confusing. And there are aspects that are not properly revealed to the user. For example, you can not opt out of targeted advertising. Explain this notion to a 14 year old boy or girl.

I find it hard to give this article any credit when it doesn’t see any sort of argument whatsoever. Maybe you think it is weak, but when you say “This seems like yet another attempt to just blame Facebook for absolutely nothing,” you simply demonstrate that you are oblivious.

Read the comments on this site and other sites. If even 10% agree with the complaint, isn’t that a reason to care?

Anonymous Noel Coward says:


In using pejorative terms such as stupid the original article undermines any point it was trying to make.

Perhaps more valid use of “stupid” would be to assign it to someone who expects teenagers to read / care about the terms and conditions of data usage and access on websites they may wish to use.

Say What says:

Tell the World Your Life ...

I am a Canadian and agree with #6 rather than #4.

Also, to #3 “In other words, some kids are not reading the options on the screen properly” … it must be CLEARLY STATED, not hidden behind a lot of legal detail or confusing screens as to what can be done with the data, else it does make it Facebook’s fault.

Anonymous Coward says:

Problem with laws, from another country, that you dont understand.

While that might be part of it, i don’t think that has much to do with this law. Isn’t disclosure that sites such as this are all about? How Many times do we listen to ‘if company x.y had only opened there device to the public’, Isn’t this law doing the same thing.

Currently this is the same law that allows another group of citizens to sue Bell, for the same reason. When they use the DPI tech without consent, there is a big issue there.

It means that you can tell if a Medical/support site that you visit, simply tracks you and then does Google like advertising, or it’s a full-on sellout of your history.

I also think there will be more lawsuits with the same idea that when someone steals the laptop with my info in it.

doppiodave says:

Bigger picture

Canada doesn’t have “all sorts of privacy laws” to be violated – just one in this case, crafted on the basis of a highly respected code developed outside of government. I’m struggling to see who or what is “stupid” here. The American legal framework, which has produced warrantless wiretapping and secret courts? FB, whose proud privacy policy has given us the Beacon initiative? Mike (whose posts usually do a great job of bringing corporate stupidity to light) has got the wrong villains here. CIPPIC (.ca) isn’t some loose cannon, but a university-based law clinic that does outstanding work and is sadly one of the very few groups in Canada devoted to public interest advocacy. And btw, how about a reality check from my own classrooms? Over this past year we’ve had many critical discussions about FB in my 4th-yr seminar – among 20-something students who are not exactly stupid and yet feel FB is not worthy of their trust. So what should they do? Stay away from social nets? Stay away from the Internet altogether? Privacy may be a debased currency on the Net, but that’s no reason to let MZ play fast and loose with the FB membership and their personal data.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Bigger picture:Wrong, Wrong and Wrong

“in this case, crafted on the basis of a highly respected code developed outside of government”

Oh, you must be defining the bureaucrats who crafted this for Chretien’s last government.

Hate to tell you but you don’t get much deeper in government than the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Justice.

Also there is varying privacy legislation in each of the 10 provinces and three territories. Maybe not “all sorts of privacy laws” but certainly enough.

“CIPPIC (.ca) isn’t some loose cannon, but a university-based law clinic that does outstanding work and is sadly one of the very few groups in Canada devoted to public interest advocacy.”

Oh you mean other than other do-gooders that Canada grows like weeds?

And while you’re at it debase other such groups at other major and minor universities around Canada, why don’t you?

They may not be a loose cannon but in this case they seriously need to check their load because they’ve misfired by a considerable amount. (Said as a former artilleryman in the RCHA, btw)

“Over this past year we’ve had many critical discussions about FB in my 4th-yr seminar – among 20-something students who are not exactly stupid and yet feel FB is not worthy of their trust. So what should they do?”

Stay away from it, just like you suggested.

After all, I can’t think of a better way of letting them know you’re unhappy.

And I do remember myself as a 20 something and stupid is mostly what I remember even as I sat in University quite certain that I knew it all.

One of the advantages to making it into my mid 50s and finding that I never did know it all and I’m not likely to either.

Makes for a happier life, it does.

“Privacy may be a debased currency on the Net, but that’s no reason to let MZ play fast and loose with the FB membership and their personal data.”

But is there such a thing as realizing that social nets aren’t about privacy in the ways that the Act, that was passed into law before the phrase even existed, didn’t forsee?

Is there such a thing in your students minds, and in yours, about learning to take responsibility for one self and ones own need to protect one’s own privacy while FB plays fast and loose with it?

I guess not.

Another job for Super Nanny State!

Jack Layton must be so proud.



really? says:

real issue

The real issue is that once again a group of people is trying to say that anybody but the real solution is the problem.

If parents would take 5 min out of their lives and be interested in their children and what they are doing then there is no need to play the protection laws for illigitimate reasons.

Solved the problem, don’t just look for 1 of 100 different possibilities.

chris (profile) says:

Re: real issue

the real issue is that people don’t take responsibility for their own actions in real life, so what makes you think they would take responsibility for their actions online?

when people get in trouble online they just blame their computers or the internet itself rather than own up to doing something without understanding the consequences.

Dave says:

The basis for PIPEDA

Here is the principles by which the Canadian privacy code was based. Facebook violates EACH AND EVERY ONE is it’s operation. None of these are “mommy state”.

Ten interrelated principles form the basis of the CSA Model Code for the Protection of Personal Information. Each principle must be read in conjunction with the accompanying commentary.

1. Accountability
An organization is responsible for personal information under its control and shall designate an individual or individuals who are accountable for the organization’s compliance with the following principles.

2. Identifying Purposes
The purposes for which personal information is collected shall be identified by the organization at or before the time the information is collected.

3. Consent
The knowledge and consent of the individual are required for the collection, use, or disclosure of personal information, except where inappropriate.

4. Limiting Collection
The collection of personal information shall be limited to that which is necessary for the purposes identified by the organization. Information shall be collected by fair and lawful means.

5. Limiting Use, Disclosure, and Retention
Personal information shall not be used or disclosed for purposes other than those for which it was collected, except with the consent of the individual or as required by law. Personal information shall be retained only as long as necessary for the fulfilment of those purposes.

6. Accuracy
Personal information shall be as accurate, complete, and up-to-date as is necessary for the purposes for which it is to be used.

7. Safeguards
Personal information shall be protected by security safeguards appropriate to the sensitivity of the information.

8. Openness
An organization shall make readily available to individuals specific information about its policies and practices relating to the management of personal information.

9. Individual Access
Upon request, an individual shall be informed of the existence, use, and disclosure of his or her personal information and shall be given access to that information. An individual shall be able to challenge the accuracy and completeness of the information and have it amended as appropriate.

10. Challenging
Compliance An individual shall be able to address a challenge concerning compliance with the above principles to the designated individual or individuals accountable for the organization’s compliance.

Yes, if you dig through Facebook at least once a week as they change how they collect info and what they do with it, you might have a chance but as they already say they collect your info even if you aren’t a member, I fail to see how it’s “stupid” people that are the problem.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: The basis for PIPEDA

Perhaps it would be too much to actually educate people, parents and users about what you see as the dangers of Facebook.

But then it’s wayyyyyy too easy to go to the federal privacy czar to get a ruling that will apply extra-territorially to Facebook which isn’t, after all, a Canadian company.

Put the shoe on the other foot and imagine, say the United States, trying the same thing with a company based in Canada. The howls of outrage from the same 20 something students who aren’t. allegedly, loose cannons (even if they need to be relashed into place) if that happened.

Editorial field days galore, speechifying in the Commons, endless “angry” barbs in Question Period and on and on and on.

Fact is that it isn’t stupid people nor is it stupid laws.

It is the knee jerk response of this group to appeal to Nanny State to correct it when Nanny State needs to step back.

Oh, and the guidelines are so open ended as to make them kind of useless in this discussion.

Just who decides what is the “sensitivity of the information” freely shared on a social net site?

And does not even joining Facebook imply informed consent when by doing so you know (or ought to know) that you’re consenting to a lower level of privacy that you’d find acceptable elsewhere or in a commerical transaction?

I could go on but I’m getting tired and the cats litter box needs changing.

At least that is productive and solves a real problem.



Sigmund Leominster says:

Human Nature?

At the risk of oversimplifying the whole of human psychology, I suggest the following truisms can be used in most cases to explain why people act as they do:

1. All humans are egocentric: “The world revolves around me.” Sure, some people appear to do altruistic things but that’s to make them look good!

2. If something goes wrong, it is someone else’s fault. “Hey, FaceBook should have done X!” In the psychological literature, you’ll find something called “Attribution Theory” that includes looking at how people ascribe causes. People make “external attributions” about bad things that happen to themselves (“I tripped up BECAUSE there was a high curb”) but make “internal attributions” about bad things that happen to others “He tripped up because he is an idiot.”

3. People care less about other people who are (a) physically distant or (b) psychologically distant. Your brother dies, you are distraught for days: 50,000 strangers die in a tsunami half way across the world, you shake you head and forget quickly.

The Three-Point Psychology is admittedly simplistic, but if you want to work out why folks do as they do, just apply these rules and you’ll be surprised how well they work.

Kevin says:

Re: Human Nature?

I disagree with number 1. I don’t think the world revolves around me, in fact I spend the majority of my time trying to figure out how my action will affect those around me, not looking for ways to blame everyone else for my problems. When something goes wrong I ask what I can do differently in the future to anticipate and avoid similar circumstance. I don’t just point a finger and go forward maintaining a state of ignorant bliss.

I’d appreciate it if you didn’t paint me with your brush of cynicism. Your problem is that you can only hear squeaky wheels, failing to recognize the silent majority; who from past experiences will tread cautiously when it comes to facebook (if they tread at all), and not charge in blindly and blame everyone else when something goes wrong. (user link) says:

I could make arguements all day about things that people are too stupid to use, but still have access to. Alcohol, guns, cars, just to name a few… and all are way more deadly than facebook. I guess my point is that you need to have a little accountability for what you put on the internet. Even if their privacy policies are hard to understand or find, you have to work under the assumption that these social network companies are going to use whatever information you provided in whatever way they see fit (usually for their profit). That isn’t to say that they go out of their way to release everything about you, but they definately don’t keep everything locked away.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Good job. You only list things that are heavily regulated by the government. That only proves the counter-argument. When is the last time you saw a 13 year old drinking booze, driving a car, or carrying a gun.

Maybe facebook shouldn’t attempt to bind a child to a contract consisting of mainly fine print….

Summer Hill says:

Parents should instruct their children...

…that pretty much everything on the Internet is profit-oriented, and that somebody, somewhere, intends to profit from your personal information. That’s where the $billions needed to run the ‘net come from. As much as Facebook or any other “social networking” site may claim otherwise, the economics of harvesting your information or “directing” advertisements is irresistible, so watch out for the fine print.

As much as some like to think that laws protect anybody, I have news: Drugs are illegal. What high school kid can’t get whatever drug they want?

Take the time to explain to your kids what these sites are all about — why they exist and why they are valued in the billions of dollars. You may be surprised that even 9 and 10 year old kids will “get it”.

Mike L says:

Greed vs Privacy

A lot of this has to do with what Facebook DOES with the info it collects, in Canada they privacy laws that protect us from companies making profits from our personal info. You can’t legally take my picture in public in Canada if it will be used for commercial gain… and personally I like it that way.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Greed vs Privacy

No one has ever been able to take a picture of you in public place, film, video or whatever and been able to use it except for news reporting.

That predated the privacy laws federally and in whatever province you live in.

Of course, CanWest-Global, CTV and others are private and for profit when they use any of the above to report the news. So are newsapapers and so is what’s left of MacLeans.

And the privacy laws don’t prevent how private companies make profit from the information they have on you, simply that there are rules in place which govern what they can do with it and that you have a chance to correct it.

Say the private companies that do credit checks.



Eva Vavoom (user link) says:

Facebook makes young teens vulnerable to real-life predators

I have written about the fact that Facebook makes teens vulnerable to real world attackers. The gap between parental and kids knowledge of the Internet has never been so large and neither party is equipped to understand or deal with the issues that are brought up.

I would like to re-iterate that certain Facebook applications make teens vulnerable to real world, in person attack more than any other social networks because they display your school under your name and give a potential attacker access to the names of all you friends.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Facebook makes young teens vulnerable to real-life predators

yeah, but if you make people pass an IQ test to get online, it’s “discriminatory” and creates “hurts feelings”.

truth be told, 85% of the people who use the internet are too stupid to be there in the first place, and the internet would be a better place without them, but for some reason that’s considered elitist.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Facebook makes young teens vulnerable to real-life predators

How does knowing someone’s school name make them “more vulnerable”? How does knowing the names of someone’s friends make them “more vulnerable”?

How are they “more vulnerable in the real world” because of Facebook than, say, riding a bus or going to the mall?

What precisely are the “more vulnerable” to?

I see a lot of Lou Dobbs-ing in your post: that is to say lots of scary wording with nothing of substance to back it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Facebook makes young teens vulnerable to real-life predators

If one young boy or girl is stalked, abducted and molested because some creep obtained most of his information from facebook… would safe-guarding against that not be reason alone to require change?

With almost 700,000 13 and 14 year olds in Canada and the United States alone… it might just be a matter of statistics.

mobiGeek says:

Re: Re: Re: Facebook makes young teens vulnerable to real-life predators

Mentioning statistics, just how many children get abducted or molested by strangers each year? (Hint: not that many).

How many abductions or molestations occur because of contact via the Internet?

Again, quoting scary numbers and broad, unsubstantiated sentences like “it might just be a matter of …” is nothing but irrational sensationalism.

Lou-Dobbsianism at its best.

Anonymous Coward says:

Stupid people...

deserve what they get. If I can “out smart” you and get one over on you without using force or violence, then you are stupid and deserve to loose and I deserve to keep whatever rewards I got out of you. I shouldn’t be punished just for being smarter than you. That’s why anti-fraud laws are so bogus.

Summer Hill says:

Parents should instruct their children...

If they can’t understand or explain to their children the perils of the world, then maybe they should educate themselves. And if that proves impossible, maybe they’re inadequate parents on a number of fronts and thus it’s irresponsible of them to have children in the first place.

Surely one of the basics of getting along in the world is understanding that “if you use a good or service, it’s going to cost you something, somewhere”. If people understood that, maybe they wouldn’t be sucked in to the illusion of things like, say, “free” websites or “free” healthcare.

And if the parents can’t understand the danger, how are they to understand the laws that are supposedly protecting them from the danger?

No, wait, I know, the government will protect them, and will make sure that nobody can use a service that allows even the slighest chance of such a horrible thing as seeing a directed advertisement, even for those who understand and accept that’s what they’re signing up for when they use the site.

But to make really sure that nobody blunders into one of those terrible websites, they’ll monitor all network traffic, and block any sites that have unacceptable terms of service.

And when that proves impractical, well, the government will set up and force its citizens to use a walled garden, where you can only get to government-approved websites. Yep, that’ll keep people safe.

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