Lately there’s been a lot of hoopla about Facebook’s privacy policies and the direction that they seem to be taking. I’ve seen warnings in friends’ status updates several times and I definitely appreciate being made aware of what’s going on through their updates and articles like this one that one of my Facebook friends posted from Wired. I think it’s imperative for everyone who joins any site on the Web to take personal responsibility for knowing what these services are doing with the data they obtain through their site. Thanks to my friends’ warnings, I usually go and tighten up my privacy settings every time Facebook decides to loosen them without my permission.
But at the same time, I look at my profile and I feel somewhat indifferent to their efforts to share my “personal data”. I don’t really care because I don’t actually give Facebook much personal data that they can do anything with. I had to agree with this post on Twitter because Facebook isn’t the only Internet giant with access to our personal data – AND Facebook requires you to sign up for it and enter the data, whereas some others, e.g., Google, just acquires it whether you know it or not:
Matthew Ingram also wrote an interesting post on GigaOM about Facebook’s privacy issues; his perspective seems to be pretty similar to mine.
Am I apathetic about the issue? Not at all. I’ve just made a personal policy decision that I don’t voluntarily put information on Facebook or any other Web site that isn’t already easily found elsewhere without much effort – or that I’m not fully comfortable sharing with the world. Because even on a site like Facebook that requires a membership, I feel it’s extremely important to remain circumspect because no matter how secure MY password is, it doesn’t mean that my friends have a secure password, too.
My Facebook profile identifies my gender (I don’t know many men named Karen, so that’s a fairly safe assumption as soon as someone sees my name), my birthday without the year, my family members who are also on Facebook, my hometown of Tallahassee, Florida and my current city of Ottawa, Ontario. I’ve also listed my political and religious leanings. The one thing that may not be easily found on the Internet already is my high school, but I’m not going to take that off because it allows me to connect with my former classmates. I don’t store any of my personal contact information on Facebook other than my email address and that isn’t accessible even to my friends – the ones who need to email me know how to do so. Not that my email address is a big secret, which is evidenced by the exorbitant amount of spam I delete all the time.
I’ve secured my photos so that only my friends have access to them, though I do send public photo album links to my father, who isn’t on Facebook. I know he’s not going to share them with sketchy people, if he shares anyone at all. Honestly, if I heard that my photos were being used by someone in Prague for advertising, I would wonder what they were thinking, unless its pictures of my son – he’s adorable and very photogenic, so I could understand why they’d want his pictures. Oddly, I decided to lock down my albums after “unfriending” an individual (yes, one single person).
Frankly, there is absolutely nothing on my Facebook account that anyone should really care that much about. I’m also not connected to hundreds or thousands of “friends” who are interested in any piece of my life. I figure it’s the major bloggers and celebrities who may have need for some concern. The Globe and Mail article above does tell the story of an average woman whose images were taken and Photoshopped, but I don’t see that becoming the norm. It’s weird and creepy, yes, but mostly I just wonder what’s wrong with the person who did it that they don’t have better things to do with their time.
Dan Yoder at Gizmodo is encouraging everyone to bail on Facebook because they are “unethical” and have waged “war on privacy” – and he isn’t so kind about Matthew Ingram’s views. While I don’t feel concern about my personal data being on Facebook, I certainly can’t blame anyone for deciding to leave. The points Dan Yoder makes are mostly valid, but my personal Internet use policy is that I make an effort not to put anything out there anywhere that I’m going to regret later – whether it’s personal information, pictures or comments, etc. In my opinion, protection of my personal information is MY responsibility. That’s why I don’t save it in Facebook.
Facebook is a perfect example of an Internet service that people need to adopt personal policies for how they will use it. Bad policy would be something like posting your address and telephone number in your profile and then announcing that you’re going on vacation. (I’ve seen people do this - don’t know if their profiles are open or not, but it always makes me cringe!! Actually, I cringe whenever someone posts it whether their address is on FB or not! It’s not like it’s hard to find an address - as mentioned in the Twitter comment above.) Matt and I discussed early on after Brandon was born that we wouldn’t post pictures of Brandon with a bare bum. Sure, it’s cute, but we aren’t comfortable with it and we also have to think about what he’ll be comfortable with 10, 15, 20 years from now. His generation’s lives will be chronicled on the Internet for all to see, but for a number of years he won’t even have a say in what is posted about him. I see it as my job to be cautious on his behalf.
Every person using the Internet has to decide what they are comfortable with and never deviate from it – whether the site is restricted access or completely open. Unfortunately, once something is posted on the Web, there is absolutely no guarantee that when you hit the delete button it will go away forever. The Web doesn’t work that way, no matter how much people wish it did. Do I agree with the way Facebook operates? Absolutely not, but I’m stickin’ with the devil I know for now. The next one could be far worse!
Special thanks to Amber Strocel for her recent Thoughts on Internet Privacy post at Strocel.com. I re-used the Globe and Mail article she referenced and I must give her some of the credit for kick-starting my own thoughts on this subject.