On Facebook and privacy

Published on . Takes about 3 minutes to read.

Everyone is in Facebook. If you're not in Facebook, you're nobody</em>.

That's the reason many users of the popular social network site, Facebook, are still sticking to it. It's not that it offers something that we cannot live without or couldn't find an alternative to - we're there because everyone we know - and often, don't know - are using the site.

Facebook has lost it's original purpose - connecting friends. People as in individuals, to other people and more importantly, a network of friends. What started out with Mary knowing Tim has become The Internet knowing Mary. Friend lists have grown, with the average number of friends being 130 (1). Companies apply increasing pressure and invade into what was supposed to be a network of persons, but has become a target group for products , services and campaigns instead.

How many people do we really interact with on a weekly basis? And how many of them are truly what could be described as "a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard" (2)? Nowadays, it's not uncommon for me to see people accepting friend requests of others they barely know, seemingly only to increase the counter. Do they realize they give the person access (and the ability to cause harm) to their personal life?

The answer must obviously be no, for how else could we see such a high disregard and low awareness on different security and privacy issues? The bad guys love Facebook too. It's an ideal incubator for all sorts of profitable things. Just take a look at some of the articles published in my favorite IT security blog NakedSecurity - scams spread like a wildfire and what's worse - even the obviously fishy ones get customers.

To be fair, the same can be said about the virtual world outside Facebook… but I, as a user, don't feel any more secure in there than in the wild… Look at it this way: Windows (XP) is the most widespread operating system on the planet. What's the most popular target for malware, adware, spyware, viruses…? The matter is not improved by the companies jumpy privacy policies, it's default settings and amount of scams able to reach the network through compromised accounts and applications.

In the light of all that whining, am I trying to say that people should ditch Facebook? No. The service is like a car, in a way: use it right and you can open new opportunities, drive drunk and it doesn't end well…. but unlike driving, neither Facebook nor the Internet require a certification process.

If you're like me - just a tiny bit paranoid and protective about privacy - you might have heard of a project called Diaspora. Essentially, it's a replacement for Facebook, designed to give you and only you control over your data…but that's a poor way to put it. Prof. Eben Moglen can explain the reasons behind it a lot better.

To cut the length of the rambling, here are some of the points I'm not happy about:

  • The amount of noise far outweighs any useful information I signed up to get…even though my friends list, likes and authorized applications count is relatively small
  • No verification process for applications - do I really want them to access my personal data?
  • Uncertainty about privacy settings - the default ones are too open, they're confusing and change often. Only post stuff you'd be willing to see in a local newspaper?
  • Invasiveness - recommendations to give out my phone number and connect to my accounts on Twitter / Gmail etc
  • HTTPS off by default
  • Inability to bulk-delete my data…without deleting my account

The concept of a social network is a fabulous one on itself…but Facebook's policies about it leave reason for dissatisfaction.

With all my heart, I hope you continue to exercise your role as a Facebook citizen, but please do so responsively. Realize that the information you give out will stay there and you are not in control of it any more.

Disclaimer: This is an article of personal opinion. The aim of the article is not dishonoring the reputation of Facebook.