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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Facebook and Privacy

I was talking to my wife earlier this week about our style of parenting for a paper that she wrote. We don't have any kids at the moment so it involved a lot of hypothetical situations and discussion about worst-case scenarios and a lot of tangents. One of these tangents was about a seminary lesson I had my junior year of High School. My teacher told us about "the privacy of a public place". Now this lesson was in relation to having intimate conversations while removing temptation, but it got me thinking about privacy on the Internet, especially Facebook.

The Internet is perhaps the most private public place (Or is it the most public private place?) available for the general populous today. There have been many cases of people posting private pictures online only to face real life repercussions from these images. Perhaps the most infamous of these situations was when Stacey Snyder was denied a teaching certificate when she posted a picture of herself titled "Drunken Pirate" on her Myspace page. What role does privacy play online?

Facebook has some of the most intricate privacy controls available on a social network. Every aspect of your profile page can be monitored to the point that one can assign individuals that can view (or not view) content on his or her page. However, Facebook has not always handled privacy issues with the most grace. In 2009 the launched a new privacy policy that set all users privacy settings so everyone could see everything by default. In 2006 there were protests when Facebook launched the newsfeed, and everything you did was published on one page. However, both of these incidents were handled appropriately. The news feed was left alone and people accepted it. The privacy policy rollout was apologized for and users were notified of the change.

This week there was a change in Facebook that caused quite a stir. They released a photo recognition feature to facilitate tagging in photos world wide (the service has been available in the US since January. Again, I will admit, Facebook stumbled on its release, setting everyone to allow this feature to tag pictures of themselves (except incidentally those that did not allow themselves to be tagged in any photo). The question of the day, however, is it a stumble? Why would Mark and the rest of the Facebook team want this to be an automatic feature? It couldn't possible be because it is useful and kind of awesome. It's like the Newsfeed. People got scared of the easy access of the information. In other words, they are scared of the public nature of the private place.

People want to be in control of their online identities. They want to be able to prohibit anyone from being able to disagree with them or post a semi-scandalous image of them. For good reason too. There are the Stacey Snyders in the world. There is a solution, one that I will talk about more next week: the need to constantly monitor your online identity. You decide what stays and what goes.

What are your thoughts on privacy online?

1 comment:

  1. My thoughts? Scary. But then again, so is the government. But we put our trust in them both and hope they serve us well.