Facebook Is Sharing a Lot More of Your Personal Information
When the Internet first started, no one worried about privacy.
It was simply a joy to be able to communicate with others so easily and to be able to use the Internet as a tool to expand your horizons. Now, however, if you are on the Internet, you have to be concerned about privacy.
The entire face of privacy has changed dramatically in just the last year. We used to be anxious about cookies and giving out information on insecure -websites. Now, we have to be concerned about every piece of information that we put on the Web.
This situation was recently brought to the forefront when Facebook changed its privacy policies and gave third-party websites the ability to mine data from Facebook accounts. Facebook, along with several partners, has developed a system that they call "Instant Personalization." Facebook says it did this to enable a "personal and social experience" on certain affiliated websites.
Here's an example of how it works. One of Facebook's first partnerships is with Pandora, a website that customizes music to your taste.
Because of the new partnership, Pandora can pull your favorite musicians from your Facebook profile and automatically create a group of music that you will like. Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing.
However, Pandora could also notify anyone on your friends list about the music that you are listening to and could notify you about the music they are listening to. Again, that is not necessarily a bad thing, unless you don't want others to know what you are listening to.
Here's where it gets hairy. Facebook states, "When you and your friends visit an instantly personalized site, the partner can use your public Facebook information, which includes your name, profile picture, gender and connections." So you might see your picture and/or personal information in places that might surprise you.
Another portion of Facebook's new alliances that greatly affects our privacy is the "Like" button. This is a simple "thumbs-up" icon that Facebook users are very familiar with.
But if you click on the Facebook "Like" button on an affiliated website, you are authorizing Facebook to be able to put the fact that you like a certain website or activity on your Facebook profile, which also appears on the news feeds of all your friends. Friends who also visit that website might be able to see that you have approved of that site. If you visit a porn site and press the "Like" button, your minister, your spouse and your mother might be immediately notified on their Facebook news feeds.
Basically, Facebook is weaving much of our Web surfing and our likes and dislikes into Facebook for all our friends and, perhaps, for everyone to see. The ways that all this will be used for are still being developed, but you can be sure that things you once thought you were sharing only with selected friends will now be -posted blatantly in a variety of places on the Web.
Any sense of confidentiality, privacy or secrecy on Facebook is now gone. And unless the public outcry is extremely loud, you can expect Facebook to continue to trash privacy. You can also expect other social websites to follow suit.
Yes, you can refrain from pressing the "Like" button. You can also opt out of Facebook's Instant Personalization, but this is not easy.
First you must go to the Applications and Websites area of your Facebook privacy settings page and find the option near the bottom that says "Instant Personalization." Then you have to uncheck the "Allow" box and confirm that you want to opt out. Wait - there's more. You must also go to the Facebook apps page of each partner and click the link that says "Block Application," then confirm your choice.
This is already ridiculous, and right now, Facebook has only three Instant Personalization partners. How long will it take for you to opt out when there are 15 or more partners? And how will you be able to know every time Facebook adds a new partner?
Facebook is blatantly cavalier in its attitude toward privacy. It doesn't think people will care, and, for the most part, they may be right. Many of us will continue to use Facebook and will not even bother to change our privacy settings.
Those of us who really care about privacy can delete our Facebook accounts. In fact, several tech personalities like Leo LaPorte, Cory Doctorow and Jason Rojas have done just that. But many of us have come to rely on Facebook for our day-to-day communications.
We can protest, and I urge everyone to do so. Yet it seems that the cat is already out of the bag. With the ease that data mining can now be accomplished and the ways that data is already being used, I am afraid that our privacy has already been inexorably damaged.
The bottom line can be summed up in one single statement: Anything that you post on the Web can now show up on the 10 o'clock news. Act accordingly.
Send your computer-related questions for publication in this column to Sandy Berger at Computer Living Corp, P.O. Box 5895, Pinehurst NC 28374; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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