It’s no secret that Facebook has pretty much always been a place where we need to be cautious about our personal privacy. However, with more recent upgrades to the website, along with technologies like geo-coding of smartphone photos, it has come pretty close to being a stalker’s dream come true.
With no more access than pictures, potential predators can often locate a person’s hometown, current location, the target’s home address, and sometimes even the corner of the house where they sleep (or where their cute little baby does). And Facebook stalkers aren’t simply the man in a trench coat peering at you from across the bar. Rather, they might be a work colleague, a schoolmate, a neighbor. This isn’t paranoia, it’s simply a reflection of our disconnected, increasingly dysfunction and untrustworthy social culture.
One of Facebook’s more recent and most popular features, the nefarious Timeline, enhances the threat, and also introduces others. The past and future events of your life are kindly digitized and used to create a clear portrait of who you are and used to be. It basically allows you to skip writing a bunch of status updates or actually communicating with close friends and relatives about your new experiences, and visually give the details of your life story in almost ominous detail.
The Timeline feature basically insures that no matter what you do, where you go, what you eat for breakfast, it will be known to all of your “friends.” Not only does Facebook advertise what you’ve been up to in the real life, it also includes a feature that has the potential to showcase your internet activity to your friends, which presents an embarrassing situation when you are a college-aged male with a Tumblr account.
The other primary enemy of your privacy is the myriad of privacy settings on Facebook. Most users don’t even know how to find the many and sometimes contradictory privacy settings and safeguards of Facebook, much less the implications of making changes. So they simply leave the defaults and hope for the best.
Just recently Facebook did elevate the profile of the privacy issue by adding the new “Privacy Shortcuts” to the top bar (see screen capture). Although this was a response to Irish governmental demands rather than an indication of any sort of genuine commitment to privacy, it’s a move in the right direction. I wonder how many people will really make use of it, however, or will understand the settings they will be expected to manipulate.
In my next post I’ll give you some very brief pointers on protecting yourself, along with resources for learning more. So if you don’t want to participate in this global game of undress, subscribe and get an update when the next part of this series comes out (to subscribe, enter your email address in the Feedburner box to the right of this post).
Update: for part two of this post on Facebook Privacy, click here.