Concerns about personal online privacy growing
May 31, 2010
by Mark Ollig

Facebook sure has opened a can of virtual worms when it comes to online privacy issues.

In addition to its privacy issue concerns, Facebook is also facing a huge trust (as in lack of) issue on the part of the users of its service.

Some Facebook users I chatted with in other forums said they have left or are thinking about leaving this social networking site.

Of course, it is common sense in understanding how we must be careful about the type of information we provide over any social networking community.

How many of you have ever Googled your name to see what information would come back?

Scary, isn’t it?

The information about us is gathered from the sites we visit online. One term for this collection of online information is called “data harvesting.”

Are we living in an age when keeping private ones social online networking communications is over?

It shouldn’t be.

Some counter by saying if you are using a free social network, you should just accept having to give up your personal privacy.

I whole-heartily disagree, especially when these social networks already told us upfront how they were committed to protecting our personal privacy. Would any of us like to have our personal cell phone numbers be made available all over the Internet?

Some of the reasons I joined Facebook was to reconnect with old friends and family who were already using it. It seemed the perfect online venue to have a place to chat in real-time, send and receive messages, and to share pictures and videos. This is part of what an online virtual community is all about.

Facebook is close to having 500 million users, which makes it one of the largest online social networks on the Internet.

There are some positive benefits in having a social network this large. Many people have found lost family members, networked and found new jobs ,or reconnected with former schoolmates they had lost contact with. Others are using large social networks as a tool in their genealogy research. Many businesses are now appearing on Facebook.

It is apparent that Facebook has become the local online meeting place for many of us. It reminds me of the venue we would go to when we were young – a certain place we could stop by where we knew our friends would sometimes show up.

It has become almost second nature to me when I come home from work (alright I check Facebook messages during the day with my iPod) and log into Facebook to catch up on the latest postings by my friends and family. In fact, it has become a habit.

I have found myself sending messages to family members more often using Facebook than through my Gmail or AOL e-mail accounts.

The fact that Facebook assured us new users we could be in control of our own privacy was another reason many of us joined.

Facebook’s original privacy policy simply stated none of our information would be shared with anyone who wasn’t in one of our groups of friends.

Today, their privacy policy contains more words than the US Constitution.

I am not leaving Facebook at this time, but I am anxiously awaiting Facebook’s 26-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg’s new “simplified privacy settings” announcement (which will be released by the time this issue of Bits & Bytes is published).

If you have already decided to leave Facebook, you might want to know that today, May 31, has been declared “Quit Facebook Day” by a web site called (you guessed it) www.quitfacebookday.com.

The “quit Facebook fever” is now out in full force.

From David Lyons latest article in Newsweek magazine to Internet podcaster Leo LaPorte, many mainstream and cyber media journalists have gone negative when it comes to Facebook.

There is even a WikiHow manual on how to quit Facebook at www.wikihow.com/Quit-Facebook.

Well, I suppose, if I ever do decide to leave Facebook, I can always meander over to the social network community at Google Buzz.

Speaking of Google, it seems they are in a bit of trouble over privacy issues with Germany and New Zealand.

While those infamous “Googlemobile” cars (with the hyperbolic video camera on the roof) were driving the highways and byways of the world collecting its street mapping information, they were also collecting other information.

Why am I not surprised by this revelation?

Germany says Google may have been collecting information about the area’s wireless networks and information on its users whenever their Googlemobiles came in range of wireless signals.

New Zealand claims, “Google obtained ‘payload data’ while photographing New Zealand streets for their Street View.”

“Maintaining people’s trust is crucial to everything we do. . .” wrote Alan Eustace, Google’s Senior vice president of Engineering and Research, in a recent Google blog post I read at www.tinyurl.com/28g2pyq.

Can’t disagree with you there, Alan.

For starters, let’s first see if Facebook can regain the trust of its users.

In the meantime, we all need to be on guard and not become complacent regarding the information or text we make available over Facebook or any other social network.