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    Washington Post: Facebook to hit 500 million users, but at what cost?

    The Washington Post assesses the growth of social-networking site Facebook and the problems that have arisen with the company, including privacy controversies:

    Facebook is expected to say this week that it has reached 500 million users, making it the biggest information network on the Internet in a meteoric rise that has connected the world into an online statehood of status updates, fan pages and picture exchanges.

    In its six-year history, the site has become ritualized in our daily lives. It has even attracted the unwilling who join for fear of being cut out of the social fabric. It has connected old friends and family. It has helped make and break political campaigns and careers. It has turned many of us into daily communicators of one-line missives on the profound and mundane. And it has tested the limits of what we care to share and keep private.

    The sheer impact and sized of the Facebook universe has captured the attention of federal regulators and lawmakers who are struggling to protect consumers and their privacy as they flock to this and other sites like Twitter. […]

    “As the amount of personal information shared on social networking sites grows, and the number of third-party companies and advertising networks with access to such information grows, it is important that consumers understand how their data is being shared and what privacy rules apply,” wrote David Vladeck, head of consumer protection at the Federal Trade Commission, in a letter last January to the privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy and Information Center. […]

    The biggest misstep was the company’s change in privacy policy last December, which sparked complaints by privacy groups to regulators and user outrage on comments boards.

    Facebook eventually walked back on some of its changes.

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