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Facebook and the Illusion of Protecting Your Personal Information and Privacy

20120806mo-facebookThere’s an unfortunate misperception about Facebook that leads people to believe they can protect their personal information and privacy if they will only learn how to configure the right privacy settings.

Of course, the Facebook privacy settings are continually changing over time, so a user may have set the privacy options correctly a year ago, but new settings and features expose them again.

The heightened concerns about privacy and the ever changing world of Facebook features and privacy settings have resulted in an ongoing media frenzy about the topic and a growing industry that offers people advice and services designed to help them manage their online image. This is all a very unnecessary circus of diversions that misses the true point.

This article is written about Facebook, but it could just as well be about LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, or any other social media platform. Facebook is just the punching bag that people enjoy using most as their example when talking about online privacy. The issues with Facebook are similar to the problems that arise with online anonymity as a method of maintaining privacy.

A recent New York Times article referred to Facebook as “a personal vault” where people store private information. The article showed the Facebook logo on top of a fierce looking shield of protection. Unfortunately this is the misconception that many people have. In reality, it’s not personal, and it’s not a vault.

In fact, the opposite is true. Facebook is a publicly accessible data mining platform that’s designed to gather personal data and distribute it as effectively as possible. It’s like a megaphone that promotes everything you’re posting. This makes it great as a marketing tool (the best use of Facebook), but a very poor place to share anything you wouldn’t want make public.

Those wanting to have ongoing personal conversations with friends, family, or colleagues should do so in private chat rooms or through using the myriad of online collaboration services that actually are private and secure. Keep in mind, even systems designed to be secure aren’t protected from someone with access mistakenly sharing something on their public blog, but at least the chances are less likely that information will be accessed.

The best approach to using Facebook is to consider it just like any other website hosting platform, but with the added feature of making things even more visible and publicly accessible. Anything you wouldn’t put on your public website or blog should not go on Facebook or any similar social network.

Do you still think your Facebook privacy settings are keeping your personal information safe and secure? Here are some things to consider:

  • Robotic Friends. How well do you know your Facebook friends? How about that friendly looking person with an interesting profile that you added because they were a friend of a friend you trust? How do you know that friend you trust didn’t do the same thing? Facebook has thousands of fake user accounts that are setup by marketers, advertisers, data miners, and hackers. Through becoming a friend with just a few people, they begin the process of friending friends. Soon, their account connections and contacts reach into the thousands. Such accounts are sold on the black market for high dollars because they can data mine and influence so many people.
  • Hacked Accounts. Let’s say that under the misconception that privacy settings will keep your content private, you’ve shared lots of photos and comments that you might not otherwise have posted to a public site. Then, one of the people you’ve entrusted with access to your Facebook page has their account hacked. Now you’ve got a hole in your boat of privacy and its sinking quick.
  • Relationship Goes Sour. Like the example above, let’s say that under the misconception that privacy settings will keep your content private, you’ve shared lots of photos and comments that you might not otherwise have posted to a public site. If a relationship goes sour, a previous Friend on Facebook turned foe could use that content against you. Although most of us don’t live in that kind of soap opera-like world with such drama, it does happen.
  • Friend Doesn’t Logout. On shared home computers between two or more people, there are times when someone may forget to signout of their Facebook account. If someone else sits down and starts exploring Facebook, they would be seeing lots of content and conversations intended for someone else.

The real problem with Facebook privacy issues is the personal nature of the data and the close proximity it has with those who it may influence. When people post something they don’t want shared, their greatest concern is not that someone they don’t know would see or read it. Their greatest concern is that some friend, family member, or co-worker might see something not intended to be shared. Well, Facebook is designed to make information readily visible to those closest to you.

In summary, it’s best to either not use Facebook, or to use it and consider it a public open website and chat room visible to the world.

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com