Sunday, March 29, 2009

Facebook and privacy

The other day, I left a comment on Kay's post (They Can Do Without My Face) about her concerns over privacy issues on Facebook. Apart from the pros and cons of FB as a social networking site or whether you think it's a waste of time, Kay is not alone in her concerns. As indicated in the video link on her blog, Facebook (and I imagine many similar sites) can pass on the information you disclose to third parties.

While this is a legitimate concern, particularly if you're worried about copyright and use of your pictures, I'm not sure I buy the whole CIA/internet/control/conspiracy aspect that the video implies - and I can be pretty paranoid. Other than a name and verifiable email address, the amount and extent of other information you provide on your profile is up to you. My point being that you control what goes into your account and just how private or not private you keep that profile information.

It helps to remember that Facebook is in the money-making business. They sell ads and information for profit. As one of my sons pointed out, they are a giant demographics mine. They want statistics: your age, where you're from, your political and religious affiliations, your likes and dislikes. They really aren't interested if you post a couple of lines about visiting Aunt Millie on Saturday. They'd much rather you take all those quizzes and polls that tell the third-party stat gurus about your favourite books, movies, music, foods, etc. – in order to sell and target ads.

So, for the most part, I don't care if they know my age, or that my hometown is Vancouver, or that I might be happy living in London. I may get targeted ads pertaining to Vancouver real estate on my sidebar or travel ads about London, but it's not like an invisible hand is going to reach through the monitor and snatch me off to London (although it might be kind of fun).

It also helps to exercise some common sense about what you post and who has access to your postings. If you're silly enough to post semi-nude drunken pictures of yourself from cousin Sal's wedding, and you happen to be a supervisor at a conservative, high-profile company, and somebody shows the picture to your boss, who then passes it onto the president of the company, who decides that you're not the type of person they want to represent the company; then there's no one to blame except yourself.

And just as it's not necessary to provide all the minute details of your life in your profile, neither is it necessary to befriend everyone who asks. Yet many people do. I've never understood how people can end up with several hundreds or thousands of so-called "friends" on FB. According to the same son, some people enter their entire email address book; then the address books of their friends. So not only do they have their own friends listed, but friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. Personally, I can't understand why anyone would want people on their friend list that they don't know (except maybe as some sort of popularity index). It seems pretty stupid, but what do I know?

It seems to me that individuals need to take more responsibility for protecting their own information. Facebook has a function that gives a fair bit of control over who can see your stuff. It's explained in their Privacy Policy (that even warns people not to share addresses and phone numbers) and can be accessed via user Privacy Settings. Apparently, not everyone is aware of it, or if they are, don't bother to use it. Privacy settings range from the default that allows virtually everyone on FB to see your profile to the most private setting that allows "only friends" to see your profile and what you post. This is why it pays to be aware of who your friends are (see above regarding accepting hundreds of people you don't know!).

If you use the internet at all (online banking, buying things online, joining forums, chatting), much of our personal information is already out there in cyberspace. Unless you're a complete luddite and refuse to use the internet to communicate or conduct any kind of business, it's an unavoidable reality for most of us.

Facebook is just another tool in the internet arsenal. Whether you use it or not shouldn't be dictated solely by concerns for privacy. Just exercise some common sense.


Joy said...

FB has been a good way to be in touch with former students, friends, former co-workers, and family members. I know what you mean about privacy, and I don't allow anyone I don't know as a "friend" on there. It's a brave new world for sure, isn't it?

Berry Blog said...

I agree with both you and Joy.Discretion is as old fashioned as "never say or reveal anything you don't want to come back to you".

doggybloggy said...

everyone is twittering now.....

ell said...

I really don't get Twittering!

Joy said...

I don't get Twittering either. I have an account but never use it.

daringtowrite said...

I didn't used to get blogging, so I imagine I ,au catch onto twittering, too. Just hope it doesn't become a Twitter or perish world.