WHAT IS PRIVATE ON FACEBOOK ANYWAY?  /  THE 'FACEBOOK PLACES' PRIVACY
 
CYBERSPACE
, AUGUST 25, 2010 (YAHOO NEWS) By Christopher Null ('The bottom line is the same as ever: If you don’t want something to be seen on Facebook, make absolutely sure your privacy settings are correct. And, of course, the only way to truly keep something out of the hands of those you don’t want to have it, is to make sure it never gets on the Internet at all.')

What’s private on Facebook anyway?

Yesterday’s revelation about the existence of a document that details the names, URLs, and unique Facebook IDs of 100 million of the site’s users has raised new questions about what is and what is not private on the immensely popular website.

Facebook says no data was “stolen,” the site was not hacked, and that this is how the site is supposed to work.

At the same time, users are more than a bit perturbed that, because of this document, they’ll probably be exposed to more spam and more malicious phishing attempts to try to obtain their login information and other personal data.

So what really is private on Facebook? What data is safe and what isn’t?

For starters, the company is right: Your name and the fact that you have a Facebook page are, by and large, unprotected from the rest of the Web. As Facebook notes in its Privacy Policy, “Such information may, for example, be accessed by everyone on the Internet (including people not logged into Facebook), be indexed by third-party search engines, and be imported, exported, distributed, and redistributed by us and others without privacy limitations. Such information may also be associated with you, including your name and profile picture, even outside of Facebook, such as on public search engines and when you visit other sites on the internet.”

But more important, if you haven’t taken the time to manually update Facebook’s privacy settings, a lot more information than that is freely available online and is subject to that same lack of restriction. Anything you have marked as “Everyone” in the Facebook Privacy Settings module is open to the world, and that can indeed be dangerous.

Facebook gives you a fair amount of control over your info, but it’s up to you to change the settings and restrict certain information more tightly than Facebook does by default. That means your photos and wall posts may indeed by seen by the world unless you restrict their viewing to just Friends (or even Friends of Friends). Images may be indexed and archived by search engines, and they’re likely to be associated directly with your name.

The bottom line is the same as ever: If you don’t want something to be seen on Facebook, make absolutely sure your privacy settings are correct. And, of course, the only way to truly keep something out of the hands of those you don’t want to have it is to make sure it never gets on the Internet at all. — Christopher Null is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.

Shots already fired over Facebook Places privacy by Caroline McCarthy
AUGUST 28, 2010 YAHOO NEWS

The first question for many when Facebook finally unveiled its Places geolocation product on Wednesday didn't have to do with how quickly the social network's 500-million-plus users would catch on, but rather how privacy advocacy groups--who have had Facebook in their crosshairs for months now--would react to the announcement.

It appears to be progressing as expected: A handful of privacy groups are voicing concerns about how much data is collected, how many controls users need to wade through to disable features, and how much may be exposed to third parties. Facebook, in turn, says they're missing the point.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California was the first major organization to release a statement after the debut of Facebook Places, and while it praised the company for learning some lessons from past privacy snafus and defaulting location-sharing to "friends only," it voiced particular concern about the feature that allows Facebook users to check their friends in, commenting that "in the world of Facebook Places, 'no' is unfortunately not an option."

Facebook responded to the ACLU on Thursday. "We're disappointed that ACLU's Northern California office ignores (Facebook's attention to privacy sensitivity) and seems to generally misunderstand how the service works," a statement read. "Specifically, no location information is associated with a person unless he or she explicitly chooses to become part of location sharing. No one can be checked in to a location without their explicit permission. Many third parties have applauded our controls, indicating that people have more protections using Facebook Places than other widely used location services available today."

Facebook offered up a list of contacts from third-party groups like the Family Online Safety Institute, TrustE, and the Future of Privacy Forum for external comment, suggesting that the ACLU is alone in its opposition to Facebook Places. But, in fact, a handful of other groups have been even less forgiving.

"The recently announced Facebook service Places makes user location data routinely available to others, including Facebook business partners, regardless of whether users wish to disclose their location. There is no single opt-out to avoid location tracking; users must change several different privacy settings to restore their privacy status quo," a statement from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) read. "EPIC, joined by many consumer and privacy organizations, has two complaints pending at the Federal Trade Commission concerning Facebook's unfair and deceptive trade practices, which are frequently associated with new product announcements."

AOL-owned business news outlet DailyFinance tracked down Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, who said that the organization would be "will be raising Facebook's new location feature with top FTC officials this week," citing concerns about Facebook's ambiguity with regard to how user data could be shared with advertisers and marketers.

The catch for privacy advocacy groups is that, this time around, they run the risk of looking like they're crying wolf. When Facebook launched its redesigned privacy settings this spring, the usual suspects raised concern, a number of prominent tech pundits deleted their Facebook accounts, and a coalition of U.S. senators began to speak up as well.

In the end, the average Facebook user didn't seem to care. No Capitol Hill battle ensued, though Facebook made a few concessions that seemed designed to appease dissidents in the policymaking world. And the social network's breakneck rate of growth didn't slow down. There may indeed be legitimate issues with the way that Facebook Places has been constructed, but privacy advocacy groups haven't been able to derail the company's plans thus far, and there's no sign that this situation will be any different.

THE AUTHOR: Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

Facebook CEO is the only person you can’t block on Facebook

Facebook is no stranger to controversy when it comes to user privacy. Most recently, the social networking site has been drawing flak over a new app that allows other users to broadcast your whereabouts.

Still, users had been able to execute the most basic sort of privacy controls on Facebook accounts: the ability to prevent other users of the service from accessing your profile. On the left side of any Facebook page you visit is a widget that reads, "Report/block this person."

So if you have, say, a stalkerish ex-boyfriend you suspect is using Facebook to keep tabs on your life, you can block him.

But here, too, Facebook has a revealing loophole. If your unwanted follower happens to be Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, you're just out of luck. Zuckerberg is the only person on Facebook who can't be blocked from viewing your photos or personal information, TechCrunch reports.

Based on an interview that Gawker's Adrian Chen did with the anonymous founder of BlockZuck.com - a site devoted to encouraging people to block Zuckerberg on Facebook in mock protest of the site's privacy policies - it had formerly been possible to block Zuckerberg. But no longer. Perhaps in response to the BlockZuck mobilization, Zuckerberg has become something of a Facebook Ninja. He could be lurking on your Facebook page right now - and there's nothing you can do about it.

Needless to say, tech bloggers are none too pleased with this discovery. As TechCrunch's Jack McKenna writes, "It's time for this company to go through puberty and start acting more like a teenager than a fifth grader. If you want to block Zuckerberg, you should be able to block Zuckerberg."

(Photo: AP/Tony Avelar)


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