Facebook: Your privacy at risk
June 1, 2010 | By Damon Armour, IT Security Officer, contributing writer
Facebook has grown from an alternative to MySpace to the most powerful social networking portal in the world. Initially dubbed as a place to keep up with friends and family, it has now become an information sponge, and we are the ones feeding it. What is Facebook doing with all this information? What steps should Facebook users take to ensure the privacy of their information? Let’s explore this in more detail.
Through most of this year, there has been a collection of articles published by newspapers, blogs, and technical sites on the privacy risks of Facebook. Recently, a New York Times article explained how complex Facebook’s privacy settings can be, stating, “To manage your privacy on Facebook, you will need to navigate through 50 settings with more than 170 options. Facebook says it wants to offer precise controls for sharing on the Internet.” The tasks involved in making sure the settings give an individual the desired privacy level is daunting. See the diagram from that article at: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/05/12/business/facebook-privacy.html
Facebook is more than just a portal to communicate with friends and family. Facebook has a wealth of applications and games. Yet, there is a catch to accepting and installing these applications. In many cases, these applications are collecting information from your profile and your activities within Facebook. If an application is not being used or installed in your profile without your knowledge, it should be removed by visiting Account/Application Settings.
Facebook does have a guide on some of the privacy aspects to their portal. It may be found at: http://www.facebook.com/privacy/explanation.php. Another great resource for Facebook privacy settings can be found at: http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/12/facebook-privacy-new/. LifeHacker has developed a method that provides the bare minimum settings to continue a Facebook account. In this way, an individual can maintain contact with friends and family, yet lessen any exposure of their personal information. Find more details on this at: http://lifehacker.com/5538697/how-to-quit-facebook-without-actually-quitting-facebook
Can a Facebook user just delete their account and all the information associated with it? The answer is yes and no. Facebook offers a feature to deactivate your account. But, deactivation does not remove any of the information Facebook has collected on you. It enables an individual to return one day and have their profile already populated. To perform a deactivation, a Facebook user needs to go to Account Settings and select Deactivate Account. For some users, that is the extent of their requests. For others, removal completely from Facebook is the desired result. That process is much more tedious.
Facebook is not as clear on how to delete your account as in how to deactivate it. In its Help Center is found the following information on permanently deleting an account: “If you do not think you will use Facebook again and would like your account deleted, please keep in mind that you will not be able to reactivate your account or retrieve any of the content or information you have added. If you would like your account permanently deleted with no option for recovery, log in to your account and then submit your request by clicking here.” It will take 14 days for a Facebook account to be deleted. During that period, a former user should not log back into the site nor use a Facebook product such as the Like button. These two tasks, for example, will cancel your deletion request and leave the account open.
Facebook allows individuals to reach out and communicate with individuals from all periods of their lives. Yet there is a price for this social networking portal. That price is personal information and all that can be mined from it. Taking the steps to mitigate what you are comfortable sharing is the responsibility of both Facebook and the user. Take the time to educate yourself on the privacy settings within Facebook and take appropriate actions. If you consider the cost is more than the benefit, delete your profile and move on.