Is Facebook Invading Your Privacy?

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Understanding the Facebook privacy concerns.

Don't get me wrong, I love Facebook just as much as the next person. Even more, maybe. I like being able keep in touch with my friends and family while still being able to network with other professional (also, I love the Facebook games). That being said, the more I look into Facebook's new privacy settings, the more concerned I'm getting.

For most of us, Facebook is more than just a way to stay in touch with our friends. It has become the place to get news, share information, network with other and in many cases, it can even help you get a job. I know several people who routinely ask new friends and dates to add them on Facebook so that will be able to look through the new friend's profile page with hopes of finding out more information about who they are. Facebook is a great resource for getting information about your friends and acquaintances, but it's a double-edged sword.

I can't help but ask - What do they know about me and who they are sharing it with?

From the beginning, Facebook has had a policy that practically forces people to be completely honest and share their information, even when they'd rather not. For example, the site requires users to provide their real name when they sign up for an account. In fact, if you use a name that the Facebook filters don't think is an actual name, they will remove your account. If the name you gave was your honest-to-goodness real name, your options for clearing up the confusion are limited.

This is the first thing that ought to be a red flag as far as privacy issues go. Why is it so important to them that they only get real, honest information? I would imagine that policing new users names takes considerable time, energy and resources. What's the harm in allowing people to sign up using a nickname they've had since childhood (or God forbid, an alias)?

To make things even more questionable, if you send a request to Facebook asking for a copy of all of your data that they have stored, they will refuse. They claim that providing a copy of the data infringes on their rights to retain trade secrets. I don't know about you, but that seems a little fishy.

Still, I like Facebook and surely they aren't really using my data in ways I wouldn't like. Right?

With the new, updated Facebook layout and the new Facebook timeline, if you aren't extremely careful, your entire web browsing history will be monitored and even posted to your Facebook news feed. This means that if you are reading this blog and then decide to look a website that may have questionable content, it could get posted to your wall. Even if it isn't published, you can be sure that Facebook is keeping a log. In fact, their software can keep track of every "like" button you see while surfing the inter-webs - even if you don't have a Facebook account and have never even visited the site or clicked the buttons.

If that wasn't enough to raise an eyebrow, think about this - Facebook recently introduced face recognition software on their site. They say that the program is just there to make it simple to tag your friends in your uploaded photos. By scanning the pictures, it can suggest which friends are in the photo and give you a one-click option to tag them.

Maybe it's just me, but I think that facial recognition software is really going above and beyond to make a process that is pretty simple in the first place, even easier. I would imagine that developing this software was expensive and that it takes up a huge amount of resources. Why would they go through all of that if they didn't have to or weren't getting anything out of it?

I might just be paranoid, but I can't stop thinking about that software on a Facebook account. With it, someone could compile a huge database of personal information, likes, dislikes, who your friends are, what your IQ is, where you like to go on the weekend, your favorite places to shop and who you are related too along with a scan of your face and the ability to pick you out of a group photo or video. It's kind of scary, huh?

At least I'm not the only one who is concerned. A senior German official has alleged that the facial recognition feature is in violation of both German and EU laws. As for Facebook, they say that it isn't a problem really, because people can disable the feature. However, you can only disable using the feature yourself and there is no way to be sure that it won't be used when your friends upload pictures that you are in. Additionally, an average Facebook user doesn't know how to delete the biometric data from the website.

It would be one thing if the facial recognition software was used on an opt-in basis, but, like most things on Facebook, the privacy settings are strictly opt-out. This means that if you don't specifically say no, then you have given consent. Which is sort of like a rapist saying that their victim didn't specifically forbid them from putting a roofie in their drink and taking advantage of them. Not opting-out isn't the same thing as consent.

Granted, there are many sites on the Internet today that gather personal information about the people who visit the site. Even Google has a program that reads Gmail user's email messages in order to target adsense ads more effectively. In return, Google gives it's users an excellent email service with tons of free services. In addition, Google's Adsense program keeps information about where you go online and what things you typically are interested in and how likely you are to click on ads.

So, it's the same sort of thing, right? Um, not so fast.

See, the big difference is that Google uses the aggregate information. This means that even though the bot is scanning the text of the email you are reading, in order to suggest ads that it thinks are related to your conversation, the information isn't stored and it isn't connected to you specifically. However, the Adsense ads are so accurate that it is almost easy to believe that Google is watching you (and maybe even reading your mind). Still, if you decided that you didn't want Google to keep any aggregate data, you can simply request a copy of all of the data they have. Believe it or not, they will provide you with the data without any hassle. After all, it belongs to you.

Or does it? If you read the Facebook Terms of Service closely, you'll find that once you post something on the site or upload any content, it becomes the property of Facebook. At first, the TOS even went so far as to say that by posting the data on Facebook, you give them all rights to the data or content. Many people were outraged that just by uploading a photo of themselves, they had given ownership and copyrights away, and understandably so. Because so many people complained, Facebook changed the rule and no longer retains copyrights to the data you post on your account.

They do, however, still retain ownership. They might say that they don't, but if you attempt to delete your account and want to remove all of the information from your profile you'll quickly notice that your content is still there. There is no way to have the information permanently removed. Once you post it, Facebook keeps it.

I'm not saying that Facebook is evil or is doing bad things with all of our data. I'm just pointing out what they do with your information. They make is really easy to share our every move, every special moment with our friends, but the cost in privacy is pretty high.

Don't misunderstand and come away with the idea that I'm saying "Don't use Facebook!", because I'm not saying that. Not exactly, at least. My point is that we all use the site thinking that we are customers, when in reality, we are their product.

So, once again, be very careful what you post on Facebook. It also doesn't hurt to check out all of your privacy settings including your timeline and facial recognition settings in order to be sure that you know exactly what and how much you are sharing with the world.

Does Facebook's new privacy settings worry you? Do you post everything on the site? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

By Melissa Kennedy- Melissa is a 9 year blog veteran and a freelance writer for EducationJobsiteBlog and Nexxt. Along with helping others find the job of their dreams, she enjoys computer geekery, raising a teenager, supporting her local library, writing about herself in the third person and working on her next novel.


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