Facebook: The Death of Privacy
By Rocky Reichman
Everyone has secrets. Thoughts they do not wish anybody else to hear about. Or to know. Some of these thoughts spread to other ears, either because we “spill the beans” (what does that phrase even mean?) or because we tell someone about it. But who can you trust? Your friends? In a digital age where broadcasting personal information has never been easier, whether in a blog, or Facebook or even in book form, can we really trust other people with our information?
This blog post does not endeavor to attempt to answer that question. Rather, this author would like to focus on a more important, frightening question. Whether or not we can trust the people around us with our secrets is one issue. But the real question, this author believes, is can we trust ourselves.
Can we trust ourselves with our personal information? Our own secrets?
This issue is especially pertinent in modern times with the advent of the Internet. With blogs. And Twitter. And Facebook. No matter your virtual social vehicle of choice, the issue is the same. Can we trust ourselves to keep our own privacy? Or are there ways and instances where our privacy can be disrupted by own actions?
This blogger’s take is a positive nod to the latter question, unfortunately. Not only can our own actions endanger our most secret thoughts, but the very attitude that this social media “Me” generation has toward what they share is also putting them at risk.
Take Facebook. One of the most critical, if not the most critical tools of thus website is its Newsfeed. The Newsfeed helps form the backbone of this social network (after the users and their profiles, of course). The Newsfeed is a quick way for Facebook users to keep up-to-date on their friend’s status’. Who’s doing what. Who’s going where. Who’s dating who. Is it “complicated?
The point, is that the Newsfeed is viewed as an important part of, if not necessity, for Facebook users. But it was not always like this. Upon its introduction, Facebook users originally cried out against it. The current “official” anti-Newsfeed group on the site us currently at 159 thousand members. The Newsfeed, clearly, represents a violation of users’ privacy. What if they do not want every single one of their friends—or, in many cases, friends of their friends—to see everything they post. Maybe they have some secrets they want to share with some of their friends, but not necessarily all of them.
What is the situation like now? There is less uproar concerning the NewsFeed. This tool continues to be indispensable for Facebook users, and is almost always the first part of the website they interact with when they log on.
Okay. All good. We can go home now, right?
Wrong! Stop. Wait a minute. Take time to analyze what really happened here. Did the NewsFeed go away? Did it stop automatically publishing your status and actions on Facebook to the rest of your friends?
You are probably shaking your head right now. Because it’s true. The Newsfeed is still there. Why? Because people got used to it. That may seem nice and dandy at first glance, but what has really happened here is a generation-wide degeneration of the value of privacy. According to Marshall Kirkpatrick, Facebook’s Barry Schnitt told ReadWriteWeb “that he too believes the world is becoming more open and his evidence is Twitter, MySpace, comments posted to newspaper websites and the rise of Reality TV.” Which shows that the true danger that social media like Facebook affords to future generations is not its blatant promotion of secrets and other thoughts that are usually not publicized, but a mellowing in attitude. The attitude of the “Me” generation has become more relaxed—too relaxed, I would venture to say—concerning what type of information they share with other people.
Some critics might point out that the danger is overblown. That Facebook has taken the privacy issue into their hands. That Facebook allows people to restrict access to who can see their posts.
Lovely. But do people actually care? Some do. And that’s the point. Some people care, not everyone. Many Facebook users do not know what they can restrict. Others are too lazy to change, or have just developed the attitude of not thinking too much of it. Evidence of this lies in the fact that so many blogs advocate and write about how to restrict your information on Facebook and protect your privacy. Examples include AllFacebook.com, Oodles of Goodles, PCWorld.com and PCMag.com just to name a few. But this author would advocate doing everything one can to protect their personal information online. Or at least, moderating who can view that information.
So. On to the details now. What type of information can be learned about people from Facebook?
At first stab, readers might venture that at most, people would post their likes/interest, relationship status, religious views, school and year graduated and even contact information like their phone number or e-mail to the public, or their friends. This itself is a plethora of personal information. Some information which may serve the owners better if it were kept secret. But the information spill does not end there. This author himself has seen profiles that reveal this and more, from home addresses (where people live!) to other information that could be used by not-so-very-friendly people to try and crack into someone e-mail or even bank account. Don’t believe me? Read this Scientific American article by a columnist who did just that. Even Facebook apps cause privacy risks, as evidence in a CNet exclusive.
Next time you are about to post something online, do a double take. Decide whether your secrets are truly safe on the Internet.