I spent last Saturday at a local tech conference, BeCamp 2010, it was a great success. The topics were excellent, the participants were the best of central Virginia\’s tech community and the sponsors provided excellent food.
The most useful session I attended was John Feminella\’s presentation on Internet Privacy. It was a great example of the kind of nuance that I see missing from general public discourse on any topic. The first step in addressing any problem is understanding the problem. And when the problem is privacy on the Internet, we have to understand what we mean by privacy. John\’s main point was
privacy != secrecy
that is, our privacy is not achieved through secrecy. Instead what we really want is control over our information. When Facebook changes their settings or when we find out about Spokeo\’s listing on us it\’s the lack of control that causes our anxiety, not the lack of secrecy. We don\’t put secrets on Facebook for our friends to read and Spokeo\’s data is collected from public records like the Charlottesville City Assessor\’s Office. The problem starts when we feel that we don\’t have control over how the information is distributed.
Facebook\’s big change this year was their new \”API\” or interface (called Facebook Open Graph) for other websites and applications to read data out of their site. And by data I mean what you and I have put on Facebook. They reorganized their privacy settings to align with this new API and to align with their business goals of making money off our information. The two big problems with the new privacy settings are that many of them defaulted to be more sharing than most people like and that it\’s very hard to tell when you\’ve locked them down enough to suit you. That\’s where the tool John Feminella showed comes in handy. Not sure what the Internet can see of your Facebook profile? Go to http://zesty.ca/facebook/ and put in your Facebook ID. Click on the links in the list it generates to see what anyone else can see about you. Because the tool\’s navigation is not the best, I recommend \’center-clicking\’ to open the links in a new tab or \’shift-clicking\’ to open in a new window. Review each category of information, then go back into Facebook and change the settings. Because of the loose structure of Facebook\’s database, there may be a time delay between changing the settings and seeing the changes on Zesty\’s tool.
I locked my profile down a few days ago and now the only thing it shows is a list of \”likes\” I belong to.
Hope this helps you feel okay about staying on Facebook.