Facebook Spies published in Catalyst RMIT mag

This article is my first experimentation of non-fiction writing and was recently published as a feature article in Catalyst RMIT’s student-run magazine. This is not the exact word-for-word article that was printed as further editing occured after submission.

Facebook Spies by Shannon McKeogh

I’ve been “connecting and sharing to the people in my life” on Facebook for about two years now. Two years of seeing photos of faked tanned clay-faced girls from parties I didn’t go to. Two years of seeing status updates like “I like toast” and “err I’m never drinking again.” By god I have loved and I have hated the blue and white formatted website. I’ve given Facebook up for lent and even considered ending that life once and for all for a New Years resolution. But how could I part with my collection of tagged photos? How would I know about events and parties? Not to mention saying goodbye to so many “meaningful” friendships like with that dude I met in the UK? Facebook is the friendship bracelet that lasts forever but it’s also a very public one at that.

Facebook has recently copped a lot of back-lash in the media regarding privacy regulations and licensing. It turns out its not just Facebook users doing the sharing but Facebook happily sharing our details with third party corporations to use for marketing strategies without explicit permission. Facebook would like to call this sharing the love but it does beg us to re-question what rights we have regarding privacy on the social networking site and how much of this “love” do we really want to give?

May 31st dubbed “Quit Facebook day” brought this problem to the media and our attention when 30,000 users closed down their Facebook accounts in protest to the third party sharing. The quitfacebookday.com website stated that “All we want are fair choices and best intentions. In our view, Facebook doesn’t do a good job in either department.” Of course as users soon found out their accounts can be closed but they cannot be deleted as the information is stored in the murky underground depths of Facebook. Unless you’ve read the terms and condition you probably wouldn’t have known that it states:

“You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.” Heavy stuff eh?
There seems to be no expiry to your content and Facebook is holding onto it well, forever.

Communication minister Stephen Conroy accused the website as having “complete disregard for privacy” and expressed concern for Australia’s 14 million internet population, 65.7% of these are Facebook users since April this year.

Facebook creator and owner Mark Zuckerberg retaliated to this criticism stating that “Fifty percent of 400 million [Facebook] users changed their privacy settings at one point therefore users understand the tools. To me that’s a signal that on the whole we’re getting it right and giving people the control they want.”

Despite this Facebook released a “simplified version” of the privacy tools on June 3rd to replace the 50 settings and 170 options and opened a group for users to express their opinion on privacy called Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Yep, I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.

The question is how much do you know about these privacy settings? Do you know how much of your content can be seen by a global audience? It’s not just weirdos and creeps that we need to be worried about browsing our information but also marketing companies using users to tick their boxes and fill out online surveys.

RMIT lecturer Lisa Dethridge said that Facebook users need to wary of “techniques like affinity marketing, where sales folk take advantage of our psycho-demographic information.”

These techniques are used in those cute thumbs-up Like buttons and applications like Farmville give third parties an all-access pass to demographic information and is linked back as research for a product or for further advertising to get us to buy their stuff. Yep, turns out Farmville isn’t just about growing crops it’s also about cultivating profits and with 80 million players worldwide Zynga the creators of Farmville have believed to have ploughed in 4 billion dollars.

If you haven’t touched your privacy settings at all it is by default on public, accessible by everyone. This means that all content you upload on Facebook is not covered by extensive copyright. Third parties can use your photos and personal details for whatever they desire although not exclusively owning it.

Facebook’s chief privacy officer Chris Kelly explained that “License is different to ownership…So the speculation about people’s faces showing up on billboards or Facebook owning the photos that they uploaded was just completely false.” But what is the best way to protect yourself from third companies? Change your privacy settings to friends only.

If that doesn’t spook you out a little bit then take a squiz at the website youropenbook.org which with a key word allows you to search through public profiles from all over the world where that word is used in their latest Facebook status updates. It shows a full name and their current profile picture but you can view their full Facebook account with the click of a button.

The website is not affixated with Facebook but is a warning of how accessible public accounts are where many users seem misinformed of their privacy settings. Openbook states that users don’t always understand the implications of having a public account, “That’s the entire planet, for all time. This privacy-malfunction could have serious consequences if you’re looking for a job, applying for college, or trying to get medical insurance.”

So where do we go from here? There is some good news as users and software developers become more privacy savvy. Reclaimprivacy.org is a free downloadable internet tool which searches your Facebook privacy settings and gives suggestions on how to make further restrictions. It is a handy tool, especially as a map to navigate through the privacy settings

Although modern life at times seems to be one big data collection where the line between private and public seem to become increasingly fuzzy there is still hope in social networking sites according to RMIT lecturer Jeremy Yullie.

“We have thousands of years of experience built into how we understand our interactions with other people in physical space, but only a few decades (at most) of this experience in digital networked platforms. In the big picture, we’re infants when it comes to online social skills.”

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Filed under facebook, facebook privacy, pop culture, RMIT, university, writing

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