I was allowed out last week (yes, entirely unsupervised! Well, apart from Lorna...) to attend a free Society for Computers and Law event on "Facebook and Social Networking Sites: Cyber-Stalking Paradise 2.0" Yes, I'm a sad geek, but hey, t'was free!
The presentation was by Professor Lilian Edwards, who was an entertaining and informative speaker. The lack of inbuilt privacy in Facebook wasn't new to me (I'd been in and fiddled with the settings to 'lock down' my profile only to approved friends, and block some people from finding me almost as soon as joining last September), but the discussion of why the site is so 'open' was something I'd not really thought about before.
Facebook was set up to be open, to allow social groups comprised of school years with school issued email addresses to network, and act as an online yearbook. Which was fine when those were the only people using the system, but when it was opened up to general use, there wasn't a real understanding of what people were using. There's no general awareness that the site is designed to share information, not to keep it secure. When a student at Oxford was caught by University staff in photos taking part in a banned after-exam flouring, was it her fault, or were her expectations of her privacy on the site just uninformed? Is she responsible for hunting down the information on how to make her profile more secure, or should Facebook be making this information more prominent? Currently, finding out who can see what about you is not particularly easy or straightforward, and can be difficult to understand. How wide a network is "friends of friends"? Ok, it's obviously wider than "friends only", but how far does "friends of friends" extend?
And who has ultimate control of what happens to images of you - you, or your friends? Anyone can upload a photo of you to Facebook, and tag you. The tag will only take you to the profile if you're linked already, otherwise it's just plain text. But if it's an active tag, everyone can see those photos, which might not always show you in the best light. You do have the option to remove the tags linking you to photos if you find them inappropriate, but that means you have to be able to log in to Facebook at the time, and remove them. Also, there is apparently a way to prevent yourself being tagged in photos at all (I didn't know this, and haven't been in to my settings to have a look yet), but this just means you'll never be notified that photos of you are uploaded, not that it stops them being uploaded. If only we all could rely on the good judgement of our friends, knowing that they'd not upload pictures that could reflect badly on ourselves...but if it doesn't work for the Royal Family, what hope do we plebs have?
And the amount of sensitive information people share on there, yeek!! I've seen home phone numbers, mobile phone numbers, home addresses, workplace, work and personal email addresses, primary and secondary school information....one day, when my other crimes are discovered, maybe I'll steal someone elses identity...
And finally, here's a link to an article listing 13 reasons Facebook will lock or delete your profile...be good!!