Privacy Concerns Over Facebook

Student Writers: Erik E, William M, Giti S

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History of Facebook

Officially launched in February 2004 from Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room, Facebook was clearly headed in the right direction from the beginning. Just one month after its launch, it quickly gained popularity among Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and Yale University students. Proof of a continuing trend towards popularity quickly became evident at the end of the year when it boasted one million active users.

The following year, the registration was extended to more than 800 colleges and high schools throughout the world. Needless to say, the number of active users saw a huge increase from one million to more than 5.5 million by December 2005.

In 2006, the registration limitations were completely stripped, eventually allowing anyone to register. Moreover, Facebook played a noteworthy role in the 2006 congressional and gubernatorial elections by being embraced as a campaign tool but also by indicating a prediction of the outcome (Williams and Gulati). The amount of active users soared to more than 12 million by December.

New interesting features such as a virtual gift shop and marketplace were integrated into the website in 2007. By October, there was a nearly five-fold increase in new registrations, now totaling a stunning 50 million active users. Additionally, “Facebook Ads” was launched in November.

Then, in 2008, Facebook extended its supported languages to Spanish, French, and German. Once again, there was another new feature added to enhance the user experience. “Facebook Chat” strengthened community interaction by providing a means of instant communication. In August, the number of active users more than doubled to over 100 million. While Facebook’s chief competitor, MySpace.com had started dominating the social networking market in 2004, Facebook grew so quickly that it eventually overtook MySpace in 2008 (Epstein).

Facebook’s enormous value became apparent when, in May 2009, Digital Sky Technologies made a $200 million investment for preferred stock at a $10 billion valuation. Aside from that, a so called “Like” feature was developed that allows users to express their liking of various content. Furthermore, the amount of active users reached over 350 million by December.

The current status as of November 2010 comprises a beta version of “Facebook Questions”, which allows its users to ask and answer questions about virtually anything. Since many prominent question and answer websites already exist (e.g. Yahoo Answers to name a popular one), this can be regarded as a way to steal page views and users away from competitors and attract them to Facebook instead. The number of active users continued to grow to a total of 500 million by July.

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Graph of the evolution of worldwide total active Facebook users. (Source: InsideFacebook.com)

Today, we look upon Facebook as one of the world’s most popular and widely used websites. Its vast amount of users has made it into the most desirable social networking domain and hugely prominent facet within the realm of Information Technology. More and more individuals are signing up, and it is no exaggeration to say that Facebook has brought a colossal change in this digital age. Its special features and applications continue to fascinate the public, and likewise, it is constantly being discussed in the news. Being a social networking website, connecting with friends is the main purpose of people signing up. Compared with other popular social media websites like Orkut, Twitter, MySpace etc., Facebook endows its users with more security features than its rivals. One obvious drawback of this is the need for adjusting numerous account options, assuming one has the intention of increased privacy. Since Facebook has encountered many complaints about its privacy settings, people are generally becoming more aware of the risks associated with sharing private data over the internet.

Privacy and Setting

In introduction, the information in cyber securities, education in privacy tools and settings, and applying the gathered knowledge on Facebook tools, privacies, applications and settings prepare a Facebook user to take precautionary measures when using cyber-networking tools. An informed Facebook user, with savvy skills on Facebook elements, uses safety mechanisms on his/her cyber social networking and avoids being hacked or exposed. The information in cyber securities, statistical data, give a wide rage of examples and cases for the users to understand the sensitivity of users' personal data. As a result, the users will be taught a set of skills that help to execute Facebook’s data management tools and precautionary actions on cyber social networking.

As an experiment, in any major search engine and typing the contents, "First name", "Last name" and "Facebook" will bring a person's Facebook profile and Facebook groups, and other information, in a few seconds. This effortless task allows all Facebook users/ non Facebook users to find their friends, coworkers, relatives, or even the person next to them in a gym class.

At the present time, the future employers, college professors, Internet thieves, sexual predators, and anyone whom know how to spell a name, knows how to use the search engines. As a result, it is easy to build an empire of friends from the organization, ex-coworkers, high school friends, or relatives. These are the people whom Facebook users chat, share photos, share daily status, takes quizzes, or play games with everyday. Yes, Facebook has empowered us to get connected across the room to across the continents, but let's not get carried away. Base by Information Technology Services at The University of Texas at Austin and my recommendations; as a Facebook user must understand and learn the above list:

  1. Account Restrictions: A Facebook profile includes photos, biography, information, wall, friends, and links. Without a proper restriction, other people are allowed to have access to one's cyber identity. Having a cyber identity is alarming since it affects how friends, family, classmates, employers view a person's profile. Moreover, it also gives an advantage to cyber stalkers. Using one's Facebook photos as an example: 90.8% of profiles have an image, these images are identifiable, semi-identifiable, or group images. It is important to understand: "Who are on your Facebook friends list? What kind of information do they have access to? What are their authorizations and permission on your identity information and images? For example, 89% Carnegie Mellon University students put their real information on Facebook. Why should you use screen names and remove strangers from your friends list?" As a Facebook user you have the obligation to learn how to navigate the privacy tools, account setting, album and photo privacy, tags, videos, walls, passwords, bios, and other communications.
  2. Private Data: The different between the private and not private data: If you do not feel comfortable to give specific information in person, therefore do not put your private information in public spaces.
  3. Places: Do not share your and your immediate location via Facebook "place" or Foursquare: Keep yourself and friends safe from dangers, robbers and stalkers.
  4. Use the limited profile: Have folder for the people whom you do not want them to know about your not so orthodox performance. For example, put your boss in a limited profile. He does not need to know you are currently an alcoholic or an ex-criminal.
  5. Alert the Facebook administrators in case of any hazard: Cyber bully or cyber stalking
  6. Block people and avoid fights: Do not break up on Facebook, do not share other people's secrets. Alert the Facebook administrators in case of any hazard: Cyber bully or cyber stalking is illegal but exists. Base by The Detroit News, "Nationally, the number of people stalked is estimated at 3.4 million, according to a survey based on the 2006 Supplemental Victimization Survey of stalking behaviors, released in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Justice. One in four — or about 850,000 — were victims of cyber stalking."
  7. Learn about applications, quizzes, groups, and your private data. Facebook users must know the different between the Facebook applications and third party applications. For example, relationships between the third party applications through a Facebook API (Application Programming Interface), quizzes, applications, games, groups, like button, and third parties. Let's use the privacy setting image as tool. Do not put your credit card information on Facebook, until you clearly understand their credit card policies. Farmville and Mafia Wars were developed by Zynga game developers, and they are generating the highest revenue generating applications on Facebook. Base by Hasan & Akhtar's studies, "The major disadvantage of playing Facebook games is that the users are vulnerable to an identity breach."

Moreover, ultimately, the Facebook privacy tools and setting section of the wiki article will inform, educate, and transform users to become savvy, insure, and versed in Facebook cyber-networking.

The privacy issues that are mentioned above are some of many that Facebook users encounter everyday. In March 2010, Zuckerberg acknowledged the vulnerability of their privacy settings and insisted that he and his team are working on complete overhaul of their privacy settings. Although Facebook does not provide a manual on how to avoid or protect yourself from these scenarios, the new privacy features are steps that will allow you to maintain and set the proper privacy settings. The following is an example on how to access the new features:

1. After signing in, locate and click the “Account” tab on the top right side of the screen.
2. Click on the “Privacy Settings” option.
3. Once arriving at the “Privacy Setting” screen, Facebook allows you to control what you share, by limiting it to everyone, friends of friends, only friends or by customizing what groups can access what. This screen also allows you to completely hide any information, block specific users from seeing your page, manage applications, and removing your page from a public search engine result.

The “Privacy Setting” menu give you full control of what users can access. The importance of locating this menu is vital to how private you want your Facebook account to be. The current privacy settings are a recent overhaul to allow user to simply adjust their privacy setting. In the New York Times’ article “Facebook Bows to Pressure Over Privacy” Zuckerberg is quoted for admitting the complexity of the old privacy settings, and states, “…this would be the last overhaul to privacy controls that the company planned to make for a while. He said the preferences that a user expressed with the new settings would apply to all future products and site changes. “The big takeaway is, don’t mess with the privacy stuff for a long time.”

The New York Times, explained that the lack of restrictions on third-party applications, allowed third party applications to share users information with other websites and marketing companies. In November 2010, PCMag.com reported Facebook’s vice-president of global public policy Marne Levine, comments on the third party application breach, stating that "The sharing of UIDs by Facebook with third-party applications does not involve the sharing of any private user data and is in no sense a privacy breach…On the contrary, the sharing of UIDs is critical to people's ability to use third-party applications on the Facebook Platform." Facebook resolved this controversy by encrypting UID’s from now on and suspending several developers who were selling information to data brokers.

Even with the new privacy features users must be aware of things that are out of Facebook’s hands, constantly being aware of what you share is still a great first step to remain private. Facebook users now have more options on how to protect their privacy; it’s all a matter of user’s taking advantage of the new features and being conscious of what you share.

References

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Albanesius, Chloe. "Facebook Responds to Congress Over User ID Controversy | News & Opinion | PCMag.com." Technology Product Reviews, News, Prices & Downloads | PCMag.com | PC Magazine. 03 Nov. 2010. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2372076,00.asp>.

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Lowensohn, Josh. "Facebook Questions: How Does It Stack Up?" Technology News - CNET News. 2 Aug. 2010. Web. 20 Nov. 2010. <http://news.cnet.com/8301-27076_3-20012259-248.html>.

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Schonfeld, Erick. "Facebook Takes That $200 Million Investment From The Russians At A $10 Billion Valuation." TechCrunch. 26 May 2009. Web. 20 Nov. 2010. <http://techcrunch.com/2009/05/26/facebook-takes-that-200-million-investment-from-the-russians-at-a-10-billion-valuation/>.

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