The social network giant that is Facebook has been fraught with privacy issues. Since it became fully available to anyone with a valid email address in 2006 there has been a constant stream of privacy niggles, and concerns.
Whether it’s the source code being leaked in 2007 or more recently the stealthy roll out of the facial recognition feature in June this year, which allowed tag suggestions on photos through facial recognition technology. A feature that users had to opt OUT of, rather than in to.
Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos said at the time “Yet again, it feels like Facebook is eroding the online privacy of its users by stealth,”
So what Mark Zuckerberg deems to be ‘cool’ may be an intrusive privacy nightmare to some users.
So with Facebook on the cusp of a new era, should users be worried about the privacy implications of impending changes? Are we being slowly lead into an Orwellian nightmare where nothing is private? Or are we about to see a more idealistic sharing platform that Zuckerberg portrayed to us at this years f8 conference?
The big announcement at f8 was the new timeline profile which is either a great way to display your carefully curated Facebook activity OR a hideous stalkers paradise reminding you of things you said and did years ago that don’t even represent your present day self, depending on your outlook.
These new changes mean new uses for the open graph, and the way businesses are able to access and use information. The future of Facebook and Facebook advertising is heavily App driven. Apps are being used to display what Zuckerberg described as ‘light weight’ news stories. Activity that gets posted to your timeline and the ‘ticker’ (the constantly changing feed in the top right) but not on your friend’s news feed.
These apps are the key to the business use of Facebook now. Your activity on a brand is shown to your friends, they check it out which in turn directs traffic to the brand’s site. This then shows on your friends feeds and exposes the brand to their extended network and cycle continues. Now apps are becoming an integrated part of people’s timeline, summarising activity in a single box. So now people can see all the Guardian articles you’ve read if you have the app installed for example.
So as long as users have granted permission for the data to be accessed by the apps, the businesses behind the apps are free to use the information of the user. Birthday, relationship status, family members, location, birth place, language, all become marketing tools. The concerns are with the way our information is being treated and whether it’s as well protected as we’d like. Are businesses being treated to more of your information than you’re aware of? Does the use of users information infringe on privacy laws within certain countries? Facebook is privy to a lot of sensitive information and their insensitivity in handling that information is what generates the aurora of distrust amongst some users.
Facebook seems to try and push boundaries and then only fix problems AFTER there has been complaints, a strategy that could be tarnishing it’s reputation when it comes to data handling. The media are also quick to pick up on the more prominent blunders.
So should we be worried that Big Brother is watching us? Well if we’re going to pour every last part of our soul into Facebook then maybe. The important thing to remember is to be conciousness about what we put online.