Facebook and the expectation of privacy

Graffiti on a bench

Another privacy spat has erupted in relation to Facebook, the social networking site. It all began when the site began actively advertising everything you did you all of your friends: every time a photo was updated or a relationship status changed, everyone could see it by default, rather than having to go looking. After that, it emerged that Facebook was selling information to third parties. Now, it seems that the applications people can install are getting access to more of their information than is required for them to operate, allowing the writers of such applications to collect and sell information such as the stated hometown and sexual orientation of anyone using them.

Normally, I am in favour of mechanisms to protect privacy and sympathetic to the fact that technology makes that harder to achieve. Facebook, I think, is different. As with a personal site, everything being posted is being intentionally put into the public domain. Those who think they have privacy on Facebook are being deluded and those who act as though information posted there is private are being foolish. The company should be more open about both facts, but I think they are within their rights to sell the information they are collecting.

The best advice for Facebook users is to keep the information posted trivial, and maintain the awareness that whatever finds its way online is likely to remain in someone’s records forever.

[Update: 12 February 2008] Canada’s Privacy Comissioner has a blog. It might be interesting reading for people concerned with such matters.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.