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At CES, Facebook's privacy booth ignores a significant chunk of the company

The social network doesn't feature privacy tools for other apps it owns like Instagram and WhatsApp.

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Facebook's social media empire includes popular photo sharing app Instagram.

Angela Lang/CNET
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

Inside Facebook's temporary headquarters in Las Vegas, the social network has set up a space dedicated to a topic that's on the mind of many users and businesses: privacy.

The space, which Facebook calls a privacy booth, includes a large screen that displays the revamped privacy checkup it unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show on Monday. The checkup guides users through privacy and security settings on the social network. 

"It's your Facebook," the screen reads. "Ask our team for more tips on how to take control."

The booth is tucked into a room in which Facebook employees will meet with business partners during the annual tech extravaganza. Filled with mid-century modern furniture, flowers and pins with Facebook's iconic thumbs-up sign, the company wants advertisers to feel right at home. 

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Facebook's privacy booth at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas during CES.

Queenie Wong/CNET

But like the new version of the privacy tool, which doesn't let you control how advertisers use your information, Facebook's booth sidesteps much of the social network's expanding empire and the privacy concerns it creates. Facebook owns Oculus, a virtual reality company; Instagram, a photo-sharing site; and WhatsApp, a popular messaging service. It's becoming more integrated into our lives with its Portal family of video chat devices. Privacy features for these products aren't mentioned at the booth.

Instead, Facebook, which will likely address its many privacy scandals during a roundtable on the topic at CES on Tuesday, focuses on its main social network. A tablet in the privacy booth includes a short quiz about the social network but doesn't mention Oculus, Instagram or WhatsApp.

One true-or-false question asks if Facebook makes money by selling data to advertisers. The company says it doesn't sell user data directly. "Facebook does not sell data to advertisers," the quiz answer reads. "This includes personal information like your name or the content of your Facebook posts." But Facebook says nothing about how it profits from user data by allowing businesses to buy targeted ads, a service that makes it popular with companies looking to market their products. 

A Facebook spokeswoman who guided me around the space said the quiz is meant to be a conversation starter, not the final word. The privacy booth resembles other pop-ups Facebook has created in the past but is still new, the spokeswoman says, and they're open to incorporating more about other apps Facebook owns.

Another absence from the privacy booth: demos of a new privacy tool called off-Facebook activity that hasn't fully rolled out globally yet. The tool lets you disconnect your online browsing activity from your social media account. That's good for privacy, but might not be so good for Facebook's business, which relies on user data to allow advertisers to reach certain types of users.

Facebook's privacy controls aren't uniform across the apps and services it owns. For example, Instagram, which is popular with advertisers, has different privacy controls than Facebook. You can't edit the privacy of individual posts so only some of your friends see them like you can on Facebook. Instagram also doesn't have a privacy checkup feature.

Instagram also hasn't been immune from privacy and security concerns. In April, Facebook said that millions of Instagram passwords had been stored in plain text, which means the tech giant's employees could have read them if they wanted to.

But Facebook's privacy issues are far more numerous. They include Cambridge Analytica, a UK consultancy, harvesting the data of 87 million Facebook users without their permission, storing passwords in plain text and the use of phone numbers intended for two-factor authentication for advertising.

On Monday, the social network expanded its privacy checkup took to include information about who can see what you share, how people can find you and account security. However, the tool doesn't address issues around how advertisers and data brokers use the social network to target users, as CNET cybersecurity reporter Alfred Ng noted.

Facebook's users and business partners might want more.