Thursday, May 27, 2010

Facebook violates Right to Privacy?

It is true that many Facebook users do not have a clue about Facebook's privacy tools and policies. Personally, I have come across many Facebook profiles - profiles of people I do not know - but their photographs, personal information and postings are visible to everyone. When I became aware of this privacy and security breach, I immediately checked the privacy settings of my Facebook account and behold - all my personal information and photographs were available to everyone, including third party applications and websites! No doubt, many users join Facebook and for one reason or the other, want their personal information to be visible to everyone, but what about those who want to share information only with family and friends? What about the right to privacy? Recently, there have been rising concerns about privacy on Facebook - does the social networking site violate the right to privacy?

Facebook currently has more that 400 million users - many of whom, unfortunately, are not aware of the privacy loopholes and security features that enhance privacy on the site. On 18 May 2010, a friend of mine on Facebook posted an article on her wall, entitled - Facebook launches new security feature. I must tell you - the article addresses an important security concern, but surprisingly, Facebook failed to notify many - if not all users about the new security feature. Were you notified? Does this ring a bell? Does Facebook really care about the right to privacy and the security of its users?

It is worth mentiong that Facebook has an "opt out" - rather than an "opt in" privacy policy. This means that as a user, you must opt-out of a privacy setting that breaches your privacy, rather than opt-in; if you don't need any privacy. Simply put, by default, Facebook breaches the privacy of users!

One of Facebook's core principles is this: if people share more, the world will become more open and connected. Does this justify the sharing of personal and contact information, photographs and postings of users without their informed consent?

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's Chief Executive, said in an article in the Washington Post, that "a world that is more open and connected is a better world". Of course, this is true - but only to an extent.

Zuckerberg seems to have quickly forgotten about Nona Belomesoff - an 18-year-old Australian girl, allegedly lured to her death by a man she met on Facebook; Zuckerberg seems to have hastily forgotten about Ashleigh Hall - a 17-year-old girl lured to her death by a convicted sex offender on Facebook. Cases like these, urgently remind you to exercise caution in online interactions. Sharing personal information online could be fatal!

Recently, Facebook shared user information with advertising companies. This move is a vivid reminder of the story of Shi Tao - a Chinese journalist who was sentenced to 10 years in prison because Yahoo! exposed his identity.

Some have argued that by accepting the terms and conditions of Facebook, users can no longer claim a violation of the right to privacy. This is a valid argument, but irrespective of what you think, you would agree that it is more important to chase the fox away before you blame the chicken for wandering deep into the forest. In this information age, a violation of the right to privacy - a fundamental human right - has far reaching consequences. Criminals, repressive governments, you name it, have now turned to the internet and social networking sites like Facebook to gather more information about their next victims. By sharing personal information with third parties and failing to give users effective control over what is shared - and with whom it is shared - Facebook puts millions of unsuspecting users in harm's way.

What can Facebook do about this?

Facebook should pay more attention to the right to privacy and give users effective control over the information they share. It would be great to have a default setting where private information is shared with "only friends". Besides, the complicated privacy control settings should be simplified.

More importantly, as a Facebook user, you should be more responsible and pay particular attention to your privacy and security settings, as well as the information you share on Facebook.

Like I said in an earlier article - Authentic Personalities on Facebook - Facebook has gone beyond connecting friends.

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