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The Facebook row

February 19, 2009

First, a disclosure. I don’t have a Facebook account. Never saw the need. I’m pretty happy with what I have.

But 8 out of 10 people I know has one. I spoke to a couple of them yesterday. They didn’t have a clue about the Facebook debacle that’s making headlines across the world.

The row, as I understand it, started when Facebook changed their terms of service (TOS) recently, leaving users unsure if Facebook could take anyone’s content like photos, even after they’ve deleted their account, and plaster it on the side of a bus if it wanted to. And there would be no recourse to complain.

The issue is really about personal data privacy.

Facebook later clarified that this was never their intention and agreed to revert back to the old TOS. For now.

Good for them. There are plenty of alternative sites just waiting to fill the void should a user revolt send Facebook to the dot-com dustbin.

Anyway that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

The point is this. People (still) don’t seem to appreciate the implications of the Internet as an open book. If you are born after 1980, have an active online life and type faster than you think, you would have left enough breadcrumbs for anyone to piece together a reasonably accurate picture of your life, warts and all.

So are you prepared for the things ill-intentioned people dredge up when you climb up the ladder? Or for them to make all sorts of erroneous conclusions about you from innocent and unconnected events in your life?

The spontaneuosness of the user and the infinite memory of the medium add up to something ominous that people haven’t quite figured out yet.

Data privacy laws will prevent companies from abusing your content. Great. But I don’t see how it will prevent anyone from using openly available information, in Facebook or otherwise, in a manner that’s detrimental to you. It can’t, because the problem is not with the technology. Its with the people who use the technology. If your job applications keep bouncing because of something you posted on Facebook or a comment someone made about you on their wall, regardless of whether its true or not, believe me you will have no recourse.

And that, I think, is a far more insidious issue than seeing your face on the side of a bus.

Edit: For a more lucid description of Facebooks’ privacy flap, read this.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 19, 2009 11:57 am

    Facebook is a good way to find lost school friend. Oh well, any tool given to you can be good or bad, depending on how you use it.

    Just don’t put too much information in there.

    Yeah, agreed. It takes a lot of willpower not not get carried away though. 🙂

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