Facebook, Privacy, Risks – you know what’s coming

social media

From Outlaw.com 21/07/09:

Jennifer Stoddart's office has investigated the social networking website's use of personal information and has found that Facebook is not clear enough about how users can control their information or restrictive enough in restricting other companies' access to it.*

The Commissioner's office said that the company needed to be more transparent.

"Social networking sites can be a wonderful way to connect. They help us keep up with friends and share ideas and information with people around the globe," said assistant commissioner Elizabeth Denham. It is important for these sites to be in compliance with the law and to maintain users’ trust in how they collect, use and disclose our personal information*.”

The investigation found that users were told on Facebook how to deactivate accounts, but not how to delete them*. Only deleting accounts actually removes personal information from Facebook's servers.

* My emphasis

Seeing as I haven’t engaged in any Facebook-bashing for a while, I thought I’d throw this post up. This topic actually reminds me of a paper I wrote for a competition earlier this year concerning the future of social networking services and the privacy of their respective users. Alas, I didn’t win though still believe I made some excellent arguments throughout (it was probably a touch too forward-thinking and conceptual for them).

In it I argued that for social networking services and privacy to co-exist in any meaningful way together, the first and crucial step was to raise awareness and educate users about the risks they faced and the tools at their disposal to manage those risks.

With informed users, I reckoned, not only would there be less online stupidity with people failing to appreciate the dangers and the full effects of their actions but it would allow for the harnessing of market forces to successfully regulate social networking providers. In short, where users were well-informed enough to choose a service which offered safe connectivity, prized security and respected users’ privacy, the respective social networking services would compete with one another on this front; security would become less of a trade-off with functionality and more of a function in its own right. For the average, less technically au fait user, well, they would be influenced by those in the know and the herd theory would operate to result in an exodus of users from services which didn’t pass muster on the security/privacy front.

There was a lot more to the paper than that, obviously, and it was heavily weighted on the side of regulatory theory rather than black letter law – perhaps that’s why I didn’t win – but I think many of the ideas I advanced are still good. I may publish it myself via Law Actually given time.


  1. I've had a look at all my settings on facebook, and everything is only accessible by friends, my profile picture doesn't come up when you search for me either!!

    I'm still surprised that lots of people when uploading photos make the photos to be viewed by anyone!! It allows lots of stalking of hot people but people should be more careful of putting pictures of them being extremely drunk!

  2. I totally agree, Lost. Why people would continue having a public profile with all kinds of compromising photos on it - when the consequences of so doing has been so well-documented in the press - is beyond me!

  3. Perhaps speaking from experience... I think the answer might lie somewhere between vanity and sheer carelessness!

  4. I have my profile set on private too, can't deal with weirdo's finding out information about me ie tagged pictures etc, but it is scary what hey could do if they hacked my account! Their terms and conditions are too complicated and no normal user will read them before doing anything! BTW your ideas about Facebook cleaning their act up sounds good!

  5. this will soon turn into a high profile facebook revolt, just as it happend in the feeds feature over a year ago. young users are very techsavy and are quick to call foul if they feel their privacy is at risk. i think that’s what has really help facebook grow: ilusion of privacy. i am the type willing to let go of a little privacy in order to say: get better amazon recomendations or movies in netflix. some users don’t feel the same. using the arbirary opt in is probably going to piss a lot of people when the sheet starts to hit the fan, just like woopie said. it’s going to be kind of funny seeing the not so fb savy screw up by sahring the unshareable


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