October 24, 2014

Is there an online duty of responsibility (to act like an adult)?

We tweet. We update our Facebook status. We respond to someone else’s Facebook status. We write a blog post. We respond again. And sometimes, we have an “Exclusive!

But do we think first? Do we ask: should I? Would I want someone to say this about me? [Read more...]

Reconsidering Facebook

After reading a few articles on Facebook, I’m reconsidering my use of the social networking site in the future.  There was a time when I was fairly open about what I posted: interests, relationships, activities, etc.  Then, when I began to prepare my bar application, I became more aware that how others view me may not always be exactly how I view myself.  My bar application was thorough, requiring even minor traffic infractions be listed.  I realized that if the Utah Bar Association cared about my driving record as far back as up to ten years ago, then who knew what potential employers, associates, and others would care about.  With Facebook the main source of my online presence, it also became the target of my reform.

I focused on cleaning it up. I  took down interests, books, relationships, music, etc.  I left only a few details.  I wasn’t ready to walk away completely.  I had seen, in addition to the pitfalls, Facebook’s potential for marketing and communication. I cleaned up my profile, passed the bar, and life went on. People could find me online, contact me, and even “friend” me, but I limited what information they could see, and I kept a close eye on what I posted.

Until this week. Reading Techcrunch, I started seeing articles about Facebook and its privacy policies a couple of weeks ago, but yesterday I got around to at last reading them.  Apparently, Facebook has some problems with protecting its users privacy.

Take, for example, if you want to stalk someone.  Says “Thank You For Not Sharing” author Dan Tynan about the problem:

The problem with stalking people on Facebook is that it’s too much damned work. But a new ‘Subscribe to person’ feature Facebook is testing may make it much easier.

Normally if you want to stalk a complete stranger — especially those who’ve set their profiles to private — you have to find some excuse for contacting them, convince them you’re worthy of their Facebook friendship (possibly by friending some of their friends first), and then dial up their FB profile several times a day looking for updates.

Now imagine stalking dozens of complete strangers each day — say, a bevy of Florida supermodels. Checking every single one of those profiles several times a day is exhausting work (or so I’ve heard).

But according to the All Facebook blog, Facebook has been testing a “Subscribe to” feature that alerts you whenever the object of your obsession does anything on FB. So every time one of my those supermodels uses Facebook Places to check into her plastic surgeon for another collagen treatment or posts photos of her BFFs frolicking in bikinis I could get a text message sent to my mobile. Imagine the time this could save.

Indeed.  Imagine.

But, you say, how much of a problem is being stalked for a thirty-something attorney who spends more time in front of a computer screen than he does on a bike seat?  Not much at all.  But there are other privacy problems Facebook has not addressed, as well, and even problems it has self created.  Problems such as:

  • Can I delete my profile?
  • And if I delete it, does it really get deleted?  Or does my information stay on Facebook’s servers?
  • Who is seeing my data on the back-end? Can third parties see and buy my information?
  • Are Facebook employees accessing my account?

The news is that, whatever the answers to these questions–to which I could not find adequate answers, Facebook is under a lot of pressure to be more forth coming about their practices.

The fact is, Facebook has steadily – and quite deliberately – carved away at the privacy protections its service was originally founded upon. It has essentially created a bait-and-switch scam: promising one thing but delivering something entirely different.

And then PC World shares this amazing graphic of who, with Facebook’s default settings, can see your information.

Your original privacy settings on Facebook in 2005

…followed by this graphic:

Your original Facebook settings in 2010

Kind of like Big Brother is watching…and so is anyone with access to an internet browser.  The whole world can get access to everything about me, unless I am fastidiously watching my tracks to block them off. But it’s not exactly what you were told when you first signed up.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.

With 500 million accounts, Facebook has a lot of data on a lot of people.  With just a few data points on these people, Facebook can influence them in a way that many politicians cannot do.  With more data points, and there are a lot of data on many profiles, Facebook can know more about its users than most governments do about their citizens.

So what’s to be done?  For now, I’m seriously considering curtailing my Facebook use until Facebook is more forth coming about their policies.  Techcrunch  recently suggested a “Bill of Rights” for users that might result in greater trust in the digital giant (“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”) that Facebook has become.  I recommend the article in full, but just to summarize some of the rights that stuck out:

1)  The Right To Protections From Snooping Facebook Employees (yeah, apparently there is a “Master Password” that allows Facebook employees to snoop in your account)
3) The Right To Information On Third Party Sharing
4) The Right To Clear Outlines of Privacy Changes - know what changes are happening, when the happen, and in a clear manner.
7) The Right To Permanently Delete Accounts - if I want to leave, let me leave.
8) Freedom Of Data Export - if I want to leave and take my data with me, it’s my data.
9) Opt In, Not Opt Out - don’t make privacy settings wide open to start, but closed.  Allow users to open them up at their option.

Oh, and for those of you who are looking for a legal tie-in, stay tuned.

Thanks to Thank You For Not Sharing, PC World, and Mark Mckeon (for the privacy settings graphs).

(NOTE: this is not my first time evaluating my Facebook use…but it’s definitely the first time I’ve completely reconsidered its use altogether)