A warning re: Facebook privacy from Nicholas Thompson

NewYorker.com editor Nicholas Thompson was on “CBS This Morning” today, and his comments about Facebook and privacy are worth reading (or listening to):

One of the things that Facebook does is that they’re constantly pushing the line of privacy. They always have, and they always will. They want to take stuff that you want to have private and they want to make it public. What happened with me is my year in review is, of course, pictures of my children, and all sorts of other things. But all of these are things that I’ve marked PRIVATE. I went to share my year in review, and, of course, Facebook defaulted to make it public, so instead of going to just my friends, it goes to 100,000 people. I had to quickly say, oh wait, no, I don’t want it to happen. that’s just the way Facebook operates. It’s always pushing that line. .. Facebook makes money by knowing as much as it possibly can about you, about your friends, about what you talk about because then it can target ads. SO if, for example, it knows, that I have kids, and there are comments about when their birthdays are, it can then have ads selling me stuff to get them for their birthdays or whatever. Facebook just wants as much information about you as it can possibly have in the most public form it can possibly get… Facebook is a business disguised as a service… Assume that Facebook will always be pushing every single possible way it can legally get away with to take everything you do and to make it as public as possible. With that assumption, set your privacy settings more restrictive than you think you might need to do… Facebook’s view, Mark Zuckerberg’s view, has always been that people don’t care about privacy and that over time we will share more and more and become more comfortable with letting more intimate details out into the world. And he is right. Over time we are more comfortable, over time we are giving up more, over time Facebook is shrinking the boundaries of privacy, and people really don’t complain.

Thompson is not saying, “Don’t use Facebook.” Obviously, he still uses Facebook. I use Facebook (I have both a profile and a page). And his comments can be said about so many online social networks – they are businesses, not services, and they make money by gathering information about you and sharing it with businesses that want to sell you stuff.

If you have never looked at your Facebook profile using a profile that is not yours and isn’t among your Facebook friends, you really should – once a year, in fact. Ask a co-worker that you are not friends with on Facebook if he or she would be willing to log into Facebook and then to look at your Facebook profile and timeline while you look over his or her shoulder, to see what really is public and what isn’t. Look for your contact information (phone number, email), your birthday, photos of yourself and, if you have such, your children. Everything you see is visible to ANYONE with a Facebook account, including those people who are not Facebook friends. Are you comfortable with what you can see? If not, change your Facebook privacy settings.

Why should you care about your privacy? Because:

  • Your employer nor your co-workers should not see what you did on vacation, or what you do outside of work hours; it’s none of their business, and they could use it to fire you. In this economy, most people can’t afford to lose their jobs over something you do outside of work that has nothing to do with your on-the-job performance.
  • It makes it easier to steal your identify. Knowing your birthday and mother’s maiden name can help a thief gather all the information he or she needs to use your identify to buy things.
  • Your life needs boundaries. Your life will feel full of creepy people if you share everything online. I’ve had a few people at my workshops say some things about my personal life that they found out because of what I’d posted online. Back when I shared it on Facebook, I didn’t think it was a big deal, but having it brought up at a workshop… it felt creepy.

YOU DO HAVE CONTROL. Be deliberate in what you post, and keep in mind that ANYTHING you post online, even if you set it to private, could become public, accidentally, maliciously and deliberately, or through a legal loophole.

Note: I transcribed Mr. Thompson’s comments myself. I apologize if I’ve made any mistakes.

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