With the way Facebook has been dealing with personal information, be it using Beacon to facilitate targeted marketing based on shared personal information (now defunct), or the rights to said personal information, users are becoming increasingly alarmed at the control third parties have over their personal/private information. Social Networks such as Facebook and social networking have become inescapable for some (join Facebook so you easily keep in touch with family members, receive invitations to friends’ parties, etc.) They provide a means for people to share a plethora of information about themselves, making personal information more easily accessible than ever before. You no longer need to pick up the phone to speak to a person, or even regularly maintain contact, to find out what friend/acquaintance X has been up to.
This provides the benefit of maintaining connection with people you may have fallen out of contact with over time. With networks such as linkedin, you can create a professional profile, linking you with present and former employers / co-workers, and possibly find a new job through your social network. With all this personal information floating around on the web on third party servers, the issue becomes losing control of your personal information. Beyond people finding out personal information about you that you would rather not have shared (say a somewhat embarrassing photo taken at a party), the majority of users are not entirely sure what these networks can or will use the information they have stored in their databases for. Will Facebook see that you are below the age of 40, female and single, and suggest that you join a dating site? Should people care about these issues?
My cardinal social networking rule is this:
Only share information you are comfortable broadcasting to people you may only be peripherally associated with. Employers may gain access to your posts (either by becoming your friend, through some agreement with Facebook, or because your privacy settings are lax). Examples of how lack of caution in social networking can cause problems can be seen in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation article How facebook ruined my career.
I’ve seen really silly uses of Facebook, predominantly through the infamous status update feature. I can’t imagine broadcasting that you’re out of town for the next two weeks is generally a wise thing to do. Sure, you may trust all the people who have “friended” you, but who is to say that there isn’t some means of using Google searching to get at that information? Would you inform everyone in your city that you were leaving town?
Having a hard time with a friend, co-worker, classmate, or professor? Consider that broadcasting it to everyone who may peripherally know you is probably not the best course. Just because Facebook gives a platform to share information, does not imply that *everything* you do, feel, or think needs to be shared with the rest of the world. This may come across as harsh (and admittedly, I am a little disillusioned with the whole Facebook thing), but nobody really cares what you had for supper.
So, beyond moderating the information you share, there are a number of useful Facebook settings / things you can do to mitigate what is shared about you:
1) Under “edit profile”, limit the amount of personal information shared about you. The most personal piece of information I share in this area is probably my birth date.
2) Under “Privacy Settings > Profile Information”, limit who can see your personal information, or who can see your photo albums.
3) Under “Privacy Settings > Applications and Websites” , you can limit:
a) What your friends share about you
b) Access given to Facebook applications and other websites, from your profile (“Privacy Settings > Instant Personalization”). I see no need to give Facebook access to share my information with other services. Total opt-out.
Ultimately, Facebook and Social Networking can be a positive resource where people share relevant information (one of my professors does a good job of this, sharing relevant news in our field, as opposed to predominantly sharing personal information, which is far less relevant). Users must be aware that just because information *can* be shared, does not imply it *should* be shared. Moderation in all things is advised, even Facebook.
South Park does a great job of poking fun at Facebook (season 14, episode 4 – “You have 0 friends”.) Highly recommended. I’d post a youtube link, but they seem to be randomly disappearing – good old copyright.
Signing out from an imaginary future where Farmville does not exist,
P.S. For great humour, if you’d enjoy some Facebook faux pas related humour, failbook is a great source.
Balakov – Facebook Storm Trooper – http://www.flickr.com/photos/balakov/4300931777/
SocialGrow – Social Networks – http://www.flickr.com/photos/socialgrow/4425128655/
Maistora – Closed for Business – http://www.flickr.com/photos/maistora/3237164755/