Defriending Privacy - Are Social Networking Sites Such as Facebook, Myspace and Friendster Good for Privacy?

Defriending Privacy - Are Social Networking Sites Such as Facebook, Myspace and Friendster Good for Privacy?

Socializing is an important function that humanity has practiced daily since the beginning. Over the years technology has changed to advocate the advancement of the human race. It has improved health, transportation and most noticeably (during this day in age) communication. Technology has revolutionized the way we communicate. Now most of us can talk to almost anyone, at almost any location. The internet pushed this idea of socializing, and shortly after the internet became more available and excepted by the masses, global socializing began developing. It started with BBS (Bulletin Board System) in the 1970s which allowed computer enthusiasts (and the ones who could afford this once known as a luxury) to post news. AOL continued the online community trend, by introducing searchable member profiles. One of the largest occurrences in favor of social networking sites was in 2002 when the website Friendster was launched. Friendster worked to promote the idea that people who were already friends could have a “rich online community experience”. To finish the current timeline, today’s social network juggernauts, Myspace and Facebook, were made in 2003-2004 and since then these sites popularity have grown to massive proportions. Facebook reports approximately 90 million users in the US and 300 million active users worldwide (as of Sep. 15, 2009), MySpace reports more than 32 million US users and 130 million worldwide (as of Aug. 4, 2009), and Twitter has an estimated 54 million users worldwide As popularity of this form of communication increases, so do the problems and controversy. Since social websites allow people to create and publish profiles that have personal information to a large audience of unknown people, many argue that privacy is a huge problem. A study on forty-five social networking sites including Facebook and Myspace done by the Cambridge University found that most (90 percent) of these websites required a user to put their full name or date of birth in order to join. Eight out of ten of these forty-five networking sites failed to use standard encryption protocols, while seventy-one percent reserved the right to use user data in privacy policies. To make matters worse, many of the websites didn’t have privacy policies at all, which the study concluded that it was due to the acknowledgement that the open discussion of privacy policies on social networking sites was unattractive to the average user.

Avid users of these sites find themselves questioning, are social networking sites good for privacy? This is an issue that has divided view points. Like most ideas, online networking has its pros and its cons. Online social networks have a large part in our daily activities and many may find that it hard to go without them. These sites help keep track of our loved ones but the popularity of them attract an unwelcomed audience as well, which include hackers and those who send viruses.

"It's dangerous to believe that sites like Facebook are responsible for our privacy" (Kincaid 1). The first fact about social networking sites is that they are social. They are created to share and interact with people. The second fact is these networks are on the internet, a place that was designed to receive and send data from and all over the world. Users should keep these two things in mind as they put any information on their profiles. The third fact about Facebook and other similar websites are that they are businesses that offer the public, use of their services free of charge, but since they are businesses, they need a source of revenue. Where does this source come from? With over three hundred users worldwide Facebook’s and other social networking sites answer to this question is advertisement. “That's not exactly surprising given that the real value of a social network lies in its size and the amount of information it keeps” (Wattanajantra 1). Advertisers are attracted to user data, so the more access they can get to user data the more revenue these sites get. US advertisers spent an estimated $1.4 billion to place ads on social networking sites in 2008 and advertising expenditures are predicted to rise to $2.6 billion by 2012.

In a Wall Street Journal investigation it was found that a number of social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace were passing along user information that many would think was private. Jessica Vascellaro a reporter for Tech, stated in the article WSJ: Facebook, MySpace & Others Share Identifying User Data with Advertisers, "Facebook was making it possible for advertisers to see ids for users who clicked (not just the profile url). This was happening through a ref equals profile code getting passed through after a user clicked on their profile and then an ad. Facebook did admit that this could be used to identify users who clicked these ads, not just the profile of the user on whose page the ad appeared"(1). Facebook and Zynga (it's largest app-making partner) recently faced a law suit made by Nancy Walther Fraf a California resident. She accused Zynga of selling her information to their advertising partners. With these accusations flowing around, the effect was fear. Many feared that their privacy was at stake. At about the same time hackers were making their mark through Facebook. The most predominant hack attack was done on Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. Other reports involving Facebook include emails and hacks. There was also a lot controversy over a Facebook advertisement system called Beacon that allowed data from users' browsing habits on other sites (for example someone who bought a DVD would then sent to be fed into Facebook and shown publicly on the news feed.

With all this information pointing in the direction that networking sites if used without discretion can be bad for privacy but this is not always the case. If a social networking user wants peace of mind, Facebook and other networking sites have privacy settings for those troubled by these reports. These provided privacy controls are for every user and can be set up with little effort. “Facebook says that they want to offer more precise controls for sharing in the internet” (Gates 1). In the past five years Facebook’s Privacy policy has increased and today has 5,830 words. Facebook’s privacy policy has increased and today has 5,830 words beating the policies of Myspace (2,290 words), Friendster (1,977 words), Twitter (1,203 words) and Flickr (384 words). The policy even exceeds the United States Constitution without the amendments. The site’s FAQ (frequently asked questions) has 45,000 alone! Facebook and other social sites provide privacy controls in which every user can set up. Facebook has fifty privacy setting controls and over one hundred and fifty options. A person can control who sees their pictures, videos, photos interests and likes. Facebook has launched a new feature to combat surety breaches and to quell the controversy. Lev. Popov, a software engineer on Facebook's integrity team, wrote the site’s blog "Over the last few weeks, we've been testing a new feature that allows you to approve the devices you commonly use to log in and then to be notified whenever your account is accessed from a device you haven't approved,". This feature can be found in the account settings page and select the option to receive notifications for log-ins from new devices. Privacy controls are used to their full potential and there is minimal private information input then privacy is not in a heap of danger.

Social networking sites are huge and many find that because these sites are so widely and regularly used, that they have to compromise their privacy to join and interact in these places. The networking site Twitter was so important to the Iranian protests after the Iranian presidential election in June 2009 that the United States’ State Department asked Twitter to prolong a scheduled network upgrade that would have taken the website offline at a busy time of day in Iran.

I have to admit with a lot of evidence stacked up in the accusers defense, it does seem to strike having a Facebook or Myspace page as risky, but it just is common sense that these sites are social a word that is an antonym for private. A person who has a Facebook or any other networking profile should be aware of the dangers of putting their personal information on the web for millions of people to view. From a personal experience, several of my friends complained that they had found that the pictures that they had posted on Facebook were now posted and circulating through the entire internet.. Social networking is good some of the time. Privacy is in danger only when a person puts information on the web, however, there are privacy controls designed to protect whatever a person wants to put on their social pages. What can one conclude about the effect of privacy that online social networking sites have? In my opinion, it is up to the user. The user must be aware of the risks involved in putting any information on the internet. A simple matter of a level of discretion and thought is really all that is required to keep anything or one from steeling information crucial to anyone’s personal privacy. Professor Ronald Leenes of the University of Tilburg stated, “If ignorance is the case then we have to teach them about the risks. Sites should publish user-friendly community guidelines rather than terms and services.”(Wattanajantra 2).

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