Facebook Privacy Concerns – My Take On It…

As the immortal Cliff Clavin might have said during his brief “stand up” career, “Facebook and Privacy, what’s up with that?”

There seems to be soooo much concern over Facebook’s apparent lack of privacy the last few days..Here are links to a few articles:

http://mattmckeon.com/facebook-privacy/

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/05/07/yet-another-privacy.html

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/809823–merciless-website-exposes-facebook-indiscretions

Frankly, I don’t get it. 

Issue Number 1…Nothing on the Internet should be presumed private. 

Somewhere along the way, people have made the Internet at large something it clearly isn’t…and that is completely private and anonymous.  Sure there are secure web servers using tools like secure socket layers and encryption so that you can feel comfortable about buying that Zune at Woot.com …but they tell you up front, here’s what we are doing to protect your data.  Did Facebook tell you that?  Don’t think so…so why expect them to do it?  I don’t have my credit card number anywhere in Facebook and I wouldn’t put it there today if they asked for it.  Sure you can put in things like your birth date, address and phone numbers if you want…but you don’t have to…and while it isn’t enough data alone, some of that kind of information could be used by criminals to commit identity theft…so don’t put it out there if you’re worried about that.

We have a one-to-one computer environment at our school.  When we do our rollout sessions at the start of each school year, we set our students expectations with respect to the computer we’re giving them and the privacy regarding the things they do with it…simply put, there is none.  We tell them, “We can see where you’ve been and we can see what you write in email…and we will look.”  We also offer a class to our parent community to teach them how to look inside the computer to see what their students are doing on the web. 

We also caution them about the Internet at large and the less-than-scrupulous people out there who can also access information disseminated across the web.  Don’t post personal information about things like your age or specifically where you live and certainly no phone numbers or parent’s credit card numbers.  I believe we have a moral obligation to protect our students from danger whether it be a stranger on campus or strangers digging through a Facebook page that they should even have up in the first place (we are a K-8 school so very few of our students meet the 13-year-old age restriction).

Issue Number 2…You’re in charge.

On Facebook, the user (that would be you and me) is completely and totally in charge of what they enter into the webpages that make up Facebook.  If you want to keep something private, don’t post it.  I know that seems overly simple but that is just exactly how it works.  If you want to have a private conversation, don’t post it in a public forum. 

What we tell our students is really practical rules we should all follow while traversing the World Wide Web.  Don’t write/post anything you wouldn’t want your mom/dad/math teacher/principal/boss/worst enemy to see or read.  Even as systems get more sophisticated, so do the criminals and people who live on data.

Me, I have my Facebook page wide open…settings to allow anyone and everyone the ability to view my pages…I figure if someone is looking for me, make it easy for them.  Truth is, I only discovered Facebook probably less than a year ago and I was instantly captured. 

I have always had an interest in looking through our old family photographs, really any old photographs, and when I stumbled across old pictures from my childhood that others had posted on Facebook, I was hooked.  It was like being able to flip through all my friends family photos just as easy as I could flip through my own…maybe easier.

The second most captivating aspect of Facebook that first night was how many old friends from school were out there and began to bombard me with friend requests.  A lot of these folks I hadn’t seen or talked with since high school, for me almost 30 years.  Some other, it had been since elementary school since we’d connected.  Consequently, I didn’t get any sleep the first night I set my account up!

I thoroughly enjoyed being able to see my old friends and in many cases their kids and grandkids…connections were made that would not have happened without the Facebook platform and its ability for me and other to mine it for data.

Now I hear you out there…

Argument Number 1…”Darryl, it’s not those kinds of data mining activities that concern us..it’s those evil companies who want to know everywhere we go on the web so they can shove their products down our throats”.  Have you ever bought anything at Radio Shack?  They ask you for your address every time…why?  To track your purchases and sell you more stuff.  Do you participate in a frequent shopper program at your local grocery store?  Why do you think these programs exist?  So they can track your purchases and sell you more stuff.  And quite likely, many businesses even sell your information to others who want to sell you stuff.  Hmmmm…sounds a lot like what Facebook is doing..I guess there is truly nothing new under the sun.

Argument Number 2…”But Darryl, what about all those bad guys out there, some who may even be your friends, that monitor Facebook so they’ll know when I’m away so they can rob me?”  I’ve had cars broken into and things stolen from my home on a number of occasions, some long before anyone had ever heard of Facebook.  This stuff happens in our society..sad but true.  Like I said above, just be smart about what you post, don’t make it easy for the criminals to take advantage of you but don’t curl up in a fetal position in the back of your house and avoid engaging with the world.

I believe Facebook is a target simply due to the sheer volume of users it has…which equates to a large amount of data in a fairly central location.  It’s the nature of the beast.  But here is my bottom line:

Facebook is a social site, a place where people share personal information…this is its sole purpose.  It’s not a bank or even a place to conduct other kinds of e-commerce, so don’t treat it that way or hold it to those kinds of standards.  Operate under the assumption that anyone can see anything you post on Facebook and you’ll have no privacy concerns.

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About Darryl Loy
Education Technology Guy

One Response to Facebook Privacy Concerns – My Take On It…

  1. Pingback: No Parent Left Behind! « EdTech Lounge

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