Online Privacy Doesn't Exist

We have yet another Facebook privacy flap going on.  This time it has to do with certain application makers transmitting Facebook IDs to third parties.  Using a Facebook ID number, these third parties could theoretically get a user’s name, phone number, friends names, and other personal information … even if the user’s privacy settings are set to maximum.

Don't expect pictures like this to stay "private" on Facebook for long.

While this is disturbing and should be handled, as Facebook appears to be doing, it once again brings up the issue of “online privacy” … an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

What we’re seeing in these continued concerns over online privacy is the struggle between the old way and the new way.  The “old way” is when you were able to remain anonymous online and offline.  That way didn’t last long after the advent of large-scale social networking.  The “new way” is that if you don’t want people to know about it, don’t post it online.

You can’t rely on a third party to keep your information private because it’s close to impossible.  If you put your phone number out there on Facebook, it doesn’t matter how high you set your privacy settings, it’s still “out there” and may eventually be found.

  • Don’t want anyone to find your number?  Don’t give it out online (or if you have to, give out your fax number or register a Google Voice number and give THAT one out.)
  • Don’t want anyone to get your personal email address?  Register a new one on Gmail, Yahoo, or elsewhere, and use that ONLY for social networking.
  • Don’t want people to find compromising pictures of you from your Facebook account?  Don’t post them!
  • Don’t want your wife/husband/significant other to know about the saucy Facebook chats you’re having with your old girlfriend/boyfriend from college?  Have them over the phone, via email, or not at all!

The first wave of Facebook users were early adopters.  A lot of them had been using online message boards and instant chat for years.  Some of them (like myself) had “social networking” experience that went all the way back to dial-up bulletin board systems.  This group generally understands how things work, and we’re not terribly surprised when a little private information becomes public.  The ones who are surprised are the newcomers to social networking .. the ones who just started in the last year or two as a Facebook profile practically became a mandatory part of citizenship.  It’s up to us to calm the fears of these “newbies” and explain to them that their old way of doing things no longer exists.

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