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Facebook: your pact with the devil

March 18, 2012
Facebook bed

In bed with Facebook, image from Mashable http://on.mash.to/FPT7XZ

I’m as frustrated as everyone else at constantly shifting Facebook privacy settings, and have struggled to keep my posts, and my kids posts private like many others. It’s a difficult place to be at times when you’d like to keep a personal life separate from a professional identity. It’s particularly worrying when dealing with kids’ Facebook accounts, even though these are the ‘digital natives’ we hear so much about there’s very little awareness of future consequences of everything being available for all to see. I even keep an extra account open so I can check on the privacy setting of their accounts – how much do I really want a stranger to see about my kids? How much is

safe? The apparent default setting of “open to all” every time the feature set changes does not help matters and means that a war of attrition is constantly in progress against creeping privacy invasion. So much for ‘friendly Facebook’ eh?

It gets worse though. It seems that some organisations, including colleges and government agencies in the USA are demanding usernames and passwords for prospective student and employees facebook accounts. Is it just me that finds this outrageous? Maybe they should insist on reading my email too, I mean, I may be bad mouthing my employer to my friends and they surely need to know this.

No they don’t.

Is there any real difference between this and your employee insisting on your home being bugged? And your post read? And while we’re at it I may start talking about work on my phone, does that give my employer the right to listen in? Oops! I forgot for a moment that the American government can already listen to all my calls.

Complaints from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stopped this demand for usernames and passwords last year however the alternative strategy is no better. The Maryland Dept of Corrections (amongst others) is insisting that people open their facebook accounts and browse through posts, pictures and links with an observer as part of their interview process. Some universities are insisting that athletes befriend a coach who will monitor their online activity. An example from the University of North Carolina states in it’s handbook, “Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings,” … “The athletics department also reserves the right to have other staff members monitor athletes’ posts.” (quoted from http://redtape.msnbc.msn.com/) So maybe not they’re not bugging your house but just insisting that you invite someone into it to sit in the corner, watch and listen to every activity. That’s alright then is it?

The Facebook Trap

Even when  you become aware of the privacy issues, and even when you learn to loath the way in which Facebook’s insight into your life is being abused by employers and others, opting out of the platform is not so easy. There’s no way to export all of your data like in Google+ – one of my favourite features of the that platform. Opt out of Facebook and you leave your friends, your photos etc behind you. Through the Facebook platform I have reconnected with many friends I have known previously and in this respect it’s been a really positive experience. For keeping in touch with family and friends living a long distance away it works perfectly well. As @alicjasocha explained to me earlier today, “I feel like I am abandoning my facebook friends, but what can I do? “. I sympathise. Google+ is just not building enough of a user base to jump ship as yet and possibly never will. Of course Google+ has it’s own issues but at least you can order your data deleted and export it first with some confidence that it will happen.

But you’d still be abandoning your friends over on the other side.

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4 comments

  1. I would hope that even “digital natives” would know better than to comply with a request/demand from anyone (teacher, boss, government) to “friend” someone just so they can watch what you are doing. That seems to go against an individual’s right to privacy to me. I know I would feel inhibited from expressing myself freely, even if I wasn’t posting anything negative, just because I know I’m actively being “watched”.

    I try to keep my Facebook private to all but “friends” but I do worry that everything could suddenly open up or be somehow compromised. It’s sad to have to assume that your private (or controlled) content could be exposed to anyone at any time. But to leave Facebook wouldn’t be worth it for all the people I would lose touch with.


  2. I agree entirely buit when you don’t get the college place, or the job you want unless you allow that intrusion it leaves little room for negotiation. Or privacy.


  3. Hopefully it wouldn’t become commonplace amongst schools and workplaces. I would hope that people would have enough gumption to use their request at this invasion of privacy to make a judgement on what kind of people they are sitting across from, and walk away. If everyone did this then pretty soon these places would stop asking the question.

    If an interviewer pushed this issue with me, I would be tempted to blast them on social media channels over it, which would be ironic considering the avoidance of negative SM sentiment was part of their original intention.

    If I was interviewing someone I wouldn’t hire someone willing to share their login details with me. Oh, and sharing your login details with anyone goes against Facebook’s TOS, of course, if that counts for anything these days.


  4. You’re right, now Facebook threatening legal action for employers who demand log in details: http://gu.com/p/36dee/tw



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