10 Things to Remember About Facebook Privacy and Security

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-05-10

10 Things to Remember About Facebook Privacy and Security

The concerns over privacy on Facebook just keep coming. The week of May 3, the social network's users came across a loophole that allowed them to view their friends' private chat conversations. Facebook quickly patched the hole, but it left some users wondering if the site's attempts to grapple with privacy issues over the past couple years have been doing more harm than good.

It's an understandable worry. Aside from allowing users to view private conversations, Facebook experienced a similar glitch a few months ago when some users received private messages intended for others. Once again, Facebook acted quickly to address the problem, but it caused some privacy advocates to wonder if the social network was doing enough to safeguard data.

For its part, Facebook has said time and again that these are small glitches that are quickly fixed. And it's also important to remember that a service with 400 million active users can't be expected to deliver absolute data security all the time. People who go on the Internet and join social networks should expect a certain degree of vulnerability for their personal data.

That's precisely why it's incumbent on people to act wisely when they join the Facebook social network. No company can be fully trusted to keep a user's individual data safe, nor should it be expected to do so. Inevitably, it's the user's job to maintain personal privacy and security on a social network. But that can only start with education.

Here are some things users must remember about Facebook:

1. There are privacy concerns

In order to have a clear understanding of the potential issues that could arise when using Facebook, it's important to realize that there are real privacy concerns that users should know about. Privacy might not be the most glamorous topic to discuss when talking about Facebook, but users also can't bury their heads in the sand and say the site has never experienced issues that might have affected a user's privacy.

The sooner users accept that Facebook has flaws, the sooner they can start safeguarding their data, changing how they use social networks and gaining a better understanding of what privacy really means on the Web.

2. There are holes

As Facebook becomes more popular, malicious hackers are finding unique ways to target the company's more than 400 million active users. One of their favorite tactics involves a phishing scam that asks users to input their credentials into a fake Facebook look-alike. Once a user does so, hackers have the log-in information they need to do whatever they'd like with the person's profile. Better still, they can sell that data to others. It's an issue that Facebook users must be prepared for.

3. Others can only get what they're offered

When it comes to privacy, only the information a person puts on the social network can be divulged to third parties. It's important to remember that. Although some folks use social networks as places to reveal their deepest and darkest secrets, they're probably not the best places for it. Facebook is a fine site that will allow users to communicate with friends, but some things are better left offline where they have no chance of being accessed by others when a glitch or hacker affects their privacy. When using social networks, users must always remember that what they share could eventually be viewed by someone they wished couldn't access such data.

4. Children have no place on Facebook

As much as Facebook wants users to feel like it's a community for everyone, the social network is best suited for adults. Facebook originally started as a place for college students to hang out. And as it grew and the company started allowing more people in, kids started making their way to the social network. That's not a good thing. If privacy is something that a particular adult is concerned about, then allowing a child on Facebook probably isn't a good move. The Web is still an extremely dangerous place for kids.

Internet Anonymity Is Over Forever

5. Facebook's privacy settings are actually useful

Before using Facebook, user should tweak their privacy settings. Although they were originally panned by critics who felt Facebook wasn't acting with users' best interests in mind, most have found the site's privacy settings to be relatively robust in the social networking world. Within just a few minutes of consulting the site's settings, users can easily decide which people are allowed to see the content in their profiles. Facebook says it realizes that privacy is important and, luckily, it's providing the tools users need to feel comfortable.

6. The Web isn't the place to share sensitive information

Years ago, the Web was a bastion of anonymity. Time and again, users would add comments to Websites, have flame wars in forums and never reveal their true identity. But as sites like Facebook and MySpace have grown, the desire for anonymity has slowly diminished as users share more and more information about themselves. It has gotten so bad that some folks are even willing to share their precise location. If privacy is really what they want, users need to remember that of all places, the Internet is not the place to divulge sensitive data. Users should only share what they're comfortable with every Web user seeing.

7. Sometimes privacy isn't best for a social network

It's not in a social network's best interest for users to have every single privacy setting at their disposal. That's why Facebook's default settings make certain information available to others. But it's important for users to understand that. In order to make information private, they will need to be more diligent than they might like to be, simply because the more information is shared on a social network, the more likely people are to want to use it. Facebook knows it, MySpace knows it and Google knows it. And until users know it and start fighting back, the privacy troubles will keep coming.

8. The alternatives aren't any better

Facebook might have some privacy and security issues that trouble its users, but the alternatives aren't any better. After an inauspicious beginning, Google Buzz has been the target of privacy advocates wondering why the company didn't implement the right policies in the first place. When MySpace was the top social network in the world, it too suffered from privacy problems. When it comes time to compare all privacy on all the major social networks, Facebook comes out on top. If privacy is a user's main concern, Facebook is probably the best choice out of any social network.

9. Some privacy is gone forever

The days of anonymity on the Web (if they ever existed) are officially over as users are increasingly revealing their true identities. To some, that's a problem. But the vast majority of users are becoming more comfortable with that reality. As Web users sign up for social networks, they can expect at least their names and a picture of themselves to be available on the Web within minutes. And because so many users share basic information, like their hometown and where they went to college, even that information is freely available. Whether we like it or not, absolute privacy is now impossible to attain. And we have to live with that (and accept it).

10. It's easy to blame Facebook

In the end, it's easy to blame Facebook for all the privacy woes some users have experienced. But a significant portion of that blame should be placed on users. Facebook is running a business that relies on users sharing information with others. And although it attempts to maintain privacy as best as it can, it's up to the users to only divulge the information they're willing to share. It's also incumbent upon users to be educated about the risks that could potentially affect them if they don't know enough about social networks and privacy.

Yes, there are inherent risks to using social networks. But those risks are magnified if users aren't always thinking about their own privacy and how prepared they are for potential data breaches. When it comes to social networks, the onus is on us.

Rocket Fuel