Issues Concerning Facebook Privacy

In the recent months Facebook has faced some slack because of the privacy concerns that users had raised. The issues have been well documented over the last few weeks. A claim being that the application is sending out private and personal information to third party websites. The kind of information included friend’s lists, email IDs and other private details. The details have been mostly distributed among advertising and internet-tracking. This distribution of personal and private information is considered violations of the social site’s privacy regulations.

The most recent privacy issue with Facebook was exposed in a Wall Street Journal report  made on Monday October 18, 2010. It was found that Facebook was providing usernames and friends names to at least 25 advertising and data firms. Especially Zynga’s Farmville has been one of the sources that has transmitted user IDs to allow third party sites to access user names and other personal information. Additionally, the report found that, Rapleaf a data gathering firm, also unintentionally used Facebook apps and links to gather data.

This recent report however is not the first, and neither will it be the last. Facebook has been under the scanner for many months. Additionally, there have been lots of questions raised on the privacy policies and security of information available on the social networking site. Facebook has been getting into a lot of controversy with regard to misusing private information in the past. It has also been accused of selling information to third parties. Previously, it was reported that a huge database of user accounts information was available on various torrent websites. The information available included pictures from thousands of profiles.

The increasing number of stories floating around about privacy and security issues, even in the past created a huge outcry. This resulted in thousands of people quitting Facebook and many others followed suit. However, now, with the amount of bad publicity occurring with the privacy issues, more and more people are feeling that there is a loss of credibility in terms of the social network. Users are also becoming more cautious about the kind of content they post. With the increasing awareness that is being brought about with the Facebook leeks in information, it is not long before governments and other agencies step in and take charge of the circulation of information. More importantly, it’s not long before the kind of information put up in Facebook is restricted by its users.

Additionally, with the startling findings from the past and the recent report, it’s obvious that Facebook has lots of work to do to win the trust of its users, to ensure that they are made to feel safe, both in terms of the information they post and their private information that they store on these pages. The issue being not with the private policy of Facebook, (which was identified as being longer than the United States Constitution in a recent study conducted by the New York Times, but with the third parties that are getting access to user information.

However, even before Facebook starts to implement protection, or the government and other agencies get into placing protections, it is important for users to understand what they can do to protect themselves. Here are some options for users to protect themselves as indicated by the

  1. Understand private settings: It is important to know and understand the available privacy settings and keep revisiting the privacy setting from time to time to know and understand new features that are invariable added to the settings. Facebook recommends that the site’s official Safety Center is the ideal place to read and understand the settings.
  2. Careful about adding strangers: Users should preferably not add people as friends unless they know the person personally. Additionally, they should not click on links that are posted by strangers. Links from strangers that have brief and cryptic messages could be worms that include links to dangerous sites.
  3. Limit the use of application: Though Facebook by itself could be safe, most of the applications available on Facebook are developed by third parties. Therefore, they may not have the same provisions for privacy as is available for Facebook. Applications like Farmville and Mafia Wars have been identified to transmit personal information to outside servers. Limiting the use of third party applications could be a way to protect the user’s private detail.
  4. Protect location: User’s must avoid using location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla. Location-based services could be used as bait for burglars to plot an attack based on the location. Therefore, it is advisable for users to not provide any form of location information or friends and acquaintances location information.
  5. Over share: It is important that the amount of information available about the user’s life and whereabouts are as restricted as possible. In other words users must be conservative with the information that is shared. Additionally, addresses and phone numbers must not be added to profiles.

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