The Techie: On Facebook and the Increasing Erosion of Digital Privacy

Mia Eaton addresses Facebook's "Instant Personalization" and lets you know why you may want to triple check your privacy settings.

Facebook's latest privacy policy is anything but. Last week, announcements of their new "Instant Personalization" had Internet users and privacy advocates in an uproar. This new "connection" policy automatically shares detailed profile information such as likes, dislikes, employment, and political affiliations with the complete list of your friends, not just with your "friends" on Facebook, but with pretty much any and all comers: companies and third party "applications" (fly-by-night startups, marketers, and the like).

Like any social media, Facebook is great for finding and catching up with old friends, sharing photos, interests, and current event-type stuff. "Increasingly, however, it is used by companies to generate a buzz about their products or to trawl for information. And this is where things get tricky," writes Bryan Appleyard for Times Online.

Even Facebook's former Privacy Officer, Chris Kelly, has spoken out against the fact that users' accounts are automatically set to "opt in" to immediately begin sharing and distributing their data to countless third parties.

This latest announcement has led to a rush of creeped out and uneasy Facebook users scrambling to learn how to opt out of this new policy, for which there aren't always clear or direct instructions. Try these instructions for opting out. A good first step is to go check your Facebook Settings page.

Some folks don't see what all the fuss is about, but it becomes pretty clear, once you step back and see the larger picture.

This isn't the first time, or even the third or fourth time that users and privacy advocates have been horrified over Facebook's practices. This article presents a solid case for deleting one's account entirely.

Some users are deactivating their accounts, but be forwarned, deactivating doesn't mean much—one must delete their account to stop having their data accessible on Facebook itself, but even then they don't guarantee that it goes *poof* from their databases, and it certainly can't guarantee this of third party databases.

A reasonable next step is to mind one's privacy settings, be vigilant about what they are, and what the privacy policy is at any given time. Be mindful about what you're comfortable sharing, or not.

Update: A very informative (and scary) post this morning from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Six Things You Need to Know about Facebook Connections.

Personally, I would delete my Facebook account (I've wanted to many times over), but as a web and social media professional, I have to stay connected so I can know what I'm talking about. Chalk it up to taking one for the team.

Facebook users, how aware of this new policy were you, and how do you feel about it? Will it affect your usage in any way?

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Comment by The Techie on May 14, 2010 at 7:29am
Has everybody seen the NY Times article on Facebook privacy? You should check it out!
Comment by The Techie on May 5, 2010 at 11:34am
My pleasure, Lisa! Happy to help.

And of course, I always, always urge people to use good, strong passwords, and to not "friend" anyone they don't really know. There are a lot of scams and fishers out there, unfortunately. Lately there's been a flood of fake or hijacked Facebook profiles that will try to friend you, so they can get greater access to your stuff. It's like Mom used to say, "Stranger Danger!"
Comment by Lisa Kathryn on May 5, 2010 at 8:57am
Thank you Mia for this post. I do not really understand much about Facebook's policies, privacy or otherwise. Therefore, the information provided is really helpful and greatly appreciated. I make it a practice not to provide my real name or a picture on any site I participate in. This is not just because of concerns for my own family's privacy, but that of my students and their families as well. As a teacher, I have to consider the impacts my actions may have on others I am responsible for. Given the vastness of the Inernet, it is best to be on the safer side.


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