Facebook is in the headlines again today. The reason, as usual, concerns privacy and the personal data of facebook users. A man named Ron Bowes used a program to scan facebook and collect personal data from user accounts. The catch this time is that the personal data was all publicly available under each user’s profile.
By revealing the personal data of 100 Million users (100,000,000 – that’s a lot of zeros), Mr Bowes wanted to highlight the privacy issues associate with facebook. Note that the data he collected was all available to anyone searching the Internet. He just had a fancy tool do the heavy lifting for him. The information was available based on the settings each of the facebook users had for his or her account.
The solution that he and others propose for the issue of data available is to save all the users from themselves. That is, facebook (and presumably other social networks) should by default have all settings set to hide all personal data from view from others.
While this may not in general be a bad idea, it loses sight of the bigger issue which is that most people just don’t make the connection between privacy and the information they make available on social networks. In addition, having all settings switched to ‘maximum secrecy’ is not going to change human nature. It may actually make things worse. Instead of making people think twice about the information they are making available online, they may be upset at the barrier set up to sharing with their friends, and they may simply go and flip all the settings off.
While facebook could do a much better job explaining what it’s privacy settings mean to the user, the task of privacy still remains with the user.
We must be careful with ANY information we put online.