Who cares about privacy?

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Facebook doesn’t.  But you should.

As most people know, at the end of 2009 Facebook decided to radically liberalize their privacy policy.  For better or worse.  In the wake of these privacy changes, if you are a user on Facebook, then your name, profile picture, gender, current city, your networks, Friends List, and all the pages you subscribe to are publicly available information on Facebook … and it’s all searchable.  I think this is a bad precedent to set.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg maintains that the new privacy policy is meant to reflect our society’s (apparent) shift in values.  According to Zuckerberg, since our culture is growing more tolerant of information sharing, Facebook and other social mediums ought to respect and reflect that fact.  Again… I don’t know if I buy that.  There are plenty of reasons to question the validity of his position here.

First, to suggest that a 26 year old computer programmer from White Plains, New York has his finger on the moral and legal pulse of Western Civilization is approaching absurd.   There is a deep hornet’s nest of ethical and legal issues surrounding the right to privacy for Internet users… especially when it comes to minors.  To think that our society should look to the founder of Facebook as a guide to public opinion and policy is silly.  Looking to the young programmer/founder of a social media website for guidance on privacy issues is like consulting Colonel Sanders for advice on nutrition.

I question his expertise, and I certainly question his motives.

Here is one reason I worry: Almost 40% of Facebook users are under the age of 25.  That translates to about 35 million people.  In the US alone, amost 10 million Facebook users are under the age of 18.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable knowing that their personal information is publically searchable … and anyone can access that data simply from  their appearance in a posted photo.  I’m no alarmist, but I know enough about network security and cyber crime to understand that the availability of this kind of information, and the laissez-faire attitude about privacy is like candy for the dark, seedy underbelly of the internet.

These issues are not new … and I touched on them last month, but I found a nice article that provides arguments for and against Facebook’s new privacy policy. As we move deeper into the information age, we must be mindful of how our future is getting shaped.  We all have a hand in how things play out.

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