Dawn Images: The Real Face of Facebook

March 29, 2009

I usually read Dawn Images in Sunday mornings for music news but today I read more than that and came across this facebook article which all you must read and share with your folks too.

Cyber issue: The real face of Facebook

Sunday, 29 Mar, 2009 | 04:30 AM PST |

by Hafsa Ahsan
Source: Dawn Images
In the good, old days, the adage was that “Big Brother” is watching. Today, even when there is no security camera in your vicinity, there is someone who has an eye on all your activities — or at least, has the potential to do so.

Every website you visit in cyberspace has the ability to track you and your activities. But those to whom you willingly submit your information, and use it to interact with your friends, have an extremely easy time doing it.

And that is where social networking websites like Facebook come in the picture. You willingly post your personal and professional information, publish all the one hundred and six photos which you took at your annual dinner, and discuss the latest happenings in your college with all your friends. All this while, you may be totally oblivious to where this information is being stored and how it will be used.

The recent brouhaha surrounding Facebook and the way it changed its privacy policy, is by no means the only controversy which has enveloped this particular social networking service. Facebook has been the focus of quite a lot of criticism over the years. And yes, these concerns relate to privacy and privacy only.

In August 2007, Tech Crunch (http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/08/11/facebook-source-code-leaked/) reported that the source code of Facebook in PHP was published on a blog for all and sundry. As one can imagine, if anyone gets their hands on the source code of Facebook, they have unlimited access to the data of whoever has an account there. Facebook responded promptly, admitting that some of the code was leaked and announcing stricter measures to guard it. But the question remains how the code got public. And if it can go public once, it certainly has the potential to do so again, especially with professional hackers around.

November 2007 saw another Facebook outcry, when a blogger on CA Security Advisor Research Blog (http://community.ca.com/blogs/securityadvisor/archive/2007/11/29/facebook-socialads-going-too-far.aspx ) reported that the social networking website was collecting information about its members’ activities on its affiliate websites. For instance, if you visited an affiliate website of Facebook, information about you and your activities will be collected and sent to Facebook (even if you were not logged into Facebook at the time). This could be information about a game you have played for instance. Moreover, not only would this information go back to Facebook, but it would be published in your Mini-feed as well. Facebook again responded to say that they do not use or retain information about their users on affiliate websites, if the users choose to opt out of this or are logged out of Facebook at the time.

The more recent complaint came on the forefront in February 2009, with regards to the Facebook terms and conditions. Now, it is a general attitude that terms and conditions of any website are hardly, if ever, read thoroughly.

It was very likely that the changes would have gone unnoticed. However, Chris Walters, a blogger for The Consumerist website, spotted the fine print in the new terms and conditions drafted by Facebook, and hence, the storm began.

Basically, the new conditions stated that Facebook would retain the information of its users, even if the users delete it from Facebook. It was also stated that even if users stop using Facebook, their information will be retained. One can only wonder what use this information would be to Facebook — if the user has discontinued using Facebook, or has deleted a photo / wall post, what’s the point in retaining it? As the users, non-users and privacy activists raised this issue, Facebook was pressured into reverting to its previous terms and conditions, something which can be regarded as a victory for privacy conscious individuals.

The interesting point here is that it was pointed out exactly a year ago, in February 2008, that Facebook does not have a proper system in place for users who want to close their account and discontinue Facebook – this gives rise to the suspicion that the account is not actually closed, and the data of the user can be accessed indefinitely by Facebook.

Currently, to counter the wave of criticism, a group has been created by the owner of Facebook entitled “Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.” Users have been invited to share their views and contribute towards a “new” draft of the terms and conditions, which are written in a reader-friendly language.

In the light of the many incidents mentioned above, what can an average individual do? The one major thing which can be done is to visit the “settings” every once in a while. You will discover quite a few additional checkboxes, pertaining to the use of your information by Facebook. Interestingly, these boxes are checked by default. Hence, you have to be vigilant, keep track of your settings, and uncheck all the extra boxes It is quite normal to expect the Facebook controversies to continue. At the end of the day, it is all about how vigilant you are about your use of social networking websites. Irrespective of how Facebook uses or does not use your information, it is you who has to make sure that you don’t go overboard by uploading private photos or discussing anything which may come back to haunt you. The idea of anyone having a dossier on you is already spooky to the nth degree. Hence, the less that dossier has, the better it is for you and your peace of mind.