Facebook – More Privacy Concerns

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Facebook and privacy concerns.  The biggest concern has been the way in which privacy is managed from your Facebook account.  In short, the privacy functionality is far too arduous.  At present, there are 50 separate privacy settings and 170 options – far too many for anyone to keep track of let alone effectively manage.  So concerned are people by the complex nature of privacy management, there are many people who are considering switching off their accounts altogether (although it should be noted that this doesn’t mean your data gets wiped from Facebook…..they keep it forever).  Now some people are happy to give up a great deal of personal information to a faceless corporation (I wonder if these same people oppose ID cards??), but for many it is concerning.  If you are concerned about this, the BBC has makes a number of recommendations on its website.

Openbook - Searches Facebook Status Updates

If, until now, you were not overly concerned about your privacy you may be about to change your mind.  The Guardian this morning had an interesting piece about a new tool that is simultaneously scary and interesting.  Openbook is a website that could led make even the most open person pause for thought in their willingness to share information about themselves (note the quote from Zuckerberg in the top right corner).  Using a simple search engine (see image), it enables people to search through non-protected status updates for specific terms.  You don’t even have to have a Facebook account to use it.   Not only does the search result in matching status updates being listed, it also displays the appropriate profile picture so that everyone knows exactly who posted the update.  Scared yet?  The Guardian published a couple of examples of updates it found when searching the site:

“dam right i cheated i coulnt get it from u wen i needed it”

“I’m sorry, I lied before when I said I used to make lots of bets. My therapist tells me I should try lying a lot to help get through my… gambling problem”.

“im not gonna bother anymore…theres no point hiding the truth…..iv lost too much and all because i lied to the one i love…im such a fukin dick head, i fucked up the best girl i’ve ever had”.

None of which you’d really want anyone else to see, I’m sure.

Now, I ought to point out at this stage that only displays updates that are not secured by the user.  All updates that are subject to strict privacy controls will not appear in any search conducted on Openbook.  If you haven’t locked your account though, you may want to rethink your willingness to slag off your employer/colleagues/wife/girlfriend…it could lead to all sorts of trouble.

Having said all that, such a tool does provide some benefits, especially to those working in public libraries.  For some time now, I have been using Twitter‘s advanced search tool to seek out feedback from customers about their experiences of the library service.  It’s an excellent way of capturing feedback and communicating with customers.  Quite often, members of the public don’t expect random library employees to read Twitter feeds, so you can often get quite honest feedback (sometimes brutally so) about your service – a crucial tool for improving and developing the service.  Now, with Facebook open to similar types of searches, there is yet another avenue for librarians to explore in order to see how users view the service (more on this at Musings about librarianship).

This is not to say that I am not concerned by the latest developments on Facebook, I find it deeply worrying.  It’s one thing to make this sort of information open, it’s another to do it without the understanding of the user.  There is a very clear difference between Facebook and Twitter in the minds of most people.  Rightly or wrongly, most people assume the former is a closed loop where only friends can view the information you share.  Twitter, on the other hand, is an open system and there is a certain expectation that everyone will have access to whatever you write.  With this in mind, you tend to be more considered in what you share on Twitter.  On Facebook, however, the tendency is to write whatever pops into your head because (supposedly) only your friends will see it.  The problem is that Facebook has seen the growth of Twitter and wants a piece of the action.  That means increasingly opening up content (your personal information) to the wider Internet community so you can ‘share’ (there’s an innocuous little term) with everyone.  You may be happy with that, you may not, but it’s something that people are going to have to get used to as long as they are on Facebook.  After all, whatever you post on there (pictures of your children, comments about your job, criticisms of your boss) doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to Facebook.  There’s a scary thought, eh?