Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Facebook Security: When "Private" Becomes Public

There has been a lot of negative buzz lately about Facebook changing their security settings and thus making users “private” information more vulnerable to the prying eyes of the public. I did some research and here is what I have found out about the newest changes to the website’s security: 

In essence, the changes are minuscule. From now on, users who accept the terms and conditions of a Facebook app will grant that developer access to their mobile telephone number and address, if listed on their profile
…the new setting will also mean users run the greater risk of having information farmed by malicious rogue apps. Scams are carefully monitored by the Facebook team, but can usually exist for at least a few days before they're shut down, meaning that cybercriminals will have time to trick users into downloading the faux app and gaining access to even more personal info that could be used against them.
(Townsend, Allie. "Uh Oh: More Privacy Changes Come To Facebook." TIME 17 Jan. 2011: n. pag.http://www.time.com/time/. Web.)

What strikes me the most about the issue this has become for most people is exactly why it has become an issue. I have never had any problems with my “personal” information on Facebook; from day one I have gone through my security settings and made sure everything was set to “Private” – in essence, only the people I want to be able to see my information have access to it. Going through your security settings at least every month or two to make sure everything is as it should be is never a bad idea either.

Secondly, I don’t participate in the third-party applications popping up all over the place (which appears to be a smart choice given the excerpt cited above). If you want to get yourself in a privacy mess, however, by unknowingly allowing cyber robots access to your information, that would be the way to go.

Most importantly of all though, is that I do not provide information on my Facebook profile that I wouldn’t be willing to hand out to anyone and everyone I meet. True, my profile is set to “Private” because I would prefer not to have every internet junkie sending me random emails and calling my cell phone, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world to me if they did gain access to that information. You won’t see me posting my social security number or debit card pin to test my “privacy” luck, however, because if the internet junkies were to gain access to that kind of information, it would be somewhat like the end of the world to me.

So, moral of the story: if a piece of information about yourself were to somehow be made public and you would consider that a tragedy, do not post it on your profile. That way, when there is a security breakdown (and let’s face it, for all the comfort and convenience it provides us, technology is far from perfect), you won’t have to worry because none of your seriously “personal” information is at risk. Same thing goes for changes to security settings, however shady those changes may be.

There is also the argument that when you post your information to a website available for public use, that information doesn’t belong to you entirely anymore, regardless of what you set your security level to. On this note, all I will suggest is reading the website’s policies very closely because I’m willing to bet that you are going to be hard-pressed to find a judge who will rule in your favor on a privacy issue when you willingly posted your information on the internet, security settings or not.

What baffles me the most is the fact that all of this seems more common sense to me than anything and yet I continually hear people rant as if basic internet privacy guidelines are a foreign concept. I fear we are becoming to dependant on technology to care what we put out there for anyone to find, or too ignorant to understand the basic risks – both of which do not bode well for the future of our online safety.

And now I can’t help but wonder what everyone else’s stance is on privacy issues when it comes to the internet and social networking sites. Is there anyone that believes, like me, that we need to be proactive about our online privacy and provide information that is only necessary and not critically detrimental if made public, or do most people believe that we should be able to share everything we want about ourselves via the internet with only those we see fit and automatically be protected from those we don’t?

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