Saturday, January 10, 2009
At risk on Facebook
There are "causes" you can join and "gifts" you can give and all of these little apps require that you give consent to allow them access to your profile and your friends list. I followed up on a few of the "privacy policies" and found the usual bafflegab and legal doublespeak designed less to explain things clearly to users and rather more to protect the companies from consequences. Of course they say the info they collect will be kept anonymous. Uh-huh. Sure. I trust you...
Now here's an interesting thing about Facebook that may be totally obvious to people but I think is worth exploring: FB is for reconnecting with people from your past or current classmates or whatever. Because it is used as an online version of a real-world social network, people usually use their real names. That is, their legal names. To do otherwise sort of defeats the central purpose of the site.
In most online sites or fora elsewhere on the internet, real names are optional. People pick handles of various sorts for these fora: variants of their name with birth year, a Star Wars character, etc. On FB, however, your central account will be tied to you as an identifiable person with an online resume of sorts.
Now the settings seem to default to only allowing your "friends" access to your information. It's not really that Google-able in this mode. But when you allow one of these numerous apps/companies to work with your FB account, you are allowing access to this same information. Where it goes from there is anybody's guess.
While this raw info may be anonymous and stripped of a real name, I suspect the info in these exported accounts is close to real and accurate personal data. I also suspect that cross-referencing this data with other public info could create a rather more detailed than usual file on someone.
Is this happening? Probably not but I don't know. If you trust online companies to protect your personal data from misdirection or misuse, you've got more faith in human nature than I do.
So I've been very cautious about this on FB. I tend to not use my legal name in most online fora and perhaps I'm feeling a little twitchy about dangers of FB than is necessary. Everything ends up on the public internet eventually but I'd really like to limit what's available.