Privacy on FB

February 16, 2011

When we join a new online social network, we are interested in two things – the presence of most of our friends on it and the amount of privacy it offers.

When it began to gain popularity, Facebook seemed to possess these two attributes. The service became known to everybody, and privacy settings were simple, either a public profile anyone can see, or a private one that can be viewed by your friends only.

With its popularity in the last three years, which may have been scary for competitors, especially since it has become the most visited website in the US, and the second most visited globally, it was a good place for users who had begun to sense the value of such a service after gathering their friends under one roof.

But like all good things, this did not last for very long, at least in terms of privacy. Facebook made radical changes to its privacy settings, and it
became incumbent on all users to reset their privacy settings.

It is no longer as simple as in the past, it has now become complex and complicated. But what was recently announced at the Facebook f8 developers' conference may be a sign that it is time to hold on and think again.

It was announced that the restrictions that were on the third party application developers will be removed. They were earlier allowed to keep users' data for only 24 hours, but this has now been done away with. This has certainly made the developers happy, but not the users, of course.

Normal users may not realise the importance of these privacy changes, but simply the ability of programmes to contain the user's data in their database may expose your information to risk.

Any attack on their database or unauthorised access to it may affect you, despite the fact that Facebook has strict laws against misuse of users' data. But how can it be monitored with the presence of more than 500 applications?

The problem which I always talked about, even before these changes were made, is: can we actually trust Facebook in particular? It is not like your e-mail that contains some important messages and photos, it is a complete archive of your life in pictures and video in a hands which may not be secure.

So far, I am not an active user, because I am against acquiring the full data of users with one click. Facebook is nice, I do not deny it, but I am not comfortable with the thought of my information being accessed by someone else.

I prefer sharing my stuff on my blog, where I can control everything as I like. Talking of control, Facebook has also launched the new 'Like' option for webmasters. If you like a page on a particular website, click on this option and the URL will appear on your Facebook profile.

It may seem like a simple process and does not differ from the previous 'Share' button, but the difference here is that earlier there was a refer option to the page that you would like to share on Facebook.

But in this case (the Like option), its code will be deployed on a majority of websites. It seems to be just an option but it seems a bit suspicious, even if you are not using it.

It may be used to track your movements online, because it is a part of the new Open Graph platform. Owners of websites adopting it must include the metatags provided in the header of their website, and when you send the data they pass it on the new protocol.

Open Graph would be a beautiful thing if it was for all social networks, its introduction by Facebook has raised the question: How far is its openness?

With the 'Like' button, you can get the full picture here: Facebook wants to be a huge container of the web, it may be watching what you read and what you write.

In principle, you can avoid the acquisition of your information by third party applications on Facebook at least through the settings in Facebook, and even opt out from the 'Like' option on the web.