Facebook Should Address Privacy Concerns: Online Communities Need Better Protection and Online Education

By Carly Banner
Facebook users often face privacy concerns due to the amount of personal data the website is entrusted with. Facebook users’ ability to keep their data protected is often complicated by the company’s constant reformatting. Due to the website’s constant changes, it is vital for a website like Facebook to encourage learning of their privacy systems and to make users aware of the risks they are facing by posting information.
On Facebook, privacy settings is the third option on the drop down menu to the right of the home tab. This displays a sample image of a status update, pointing out that the privacy of each individual status can be tailored to be seen by all of the user’s friends or only a select few. The page goes on to point out that “the people you share with can always share your information with others,” which is of course one of the biggest problems with online privacy. Information can only be as secure as the people it is given to.

One of the most important, and overlooked strategies of Facebook security is only adding people who can be trusted with private information. Facebook could add a discreet reminder next to the confirm friendship button that the person in question will have access to personal information.

If a user hasn’t recently adjusted their privacy settings, their personal information such as religion or relationship status can only be seen by friends. However under the default settings hometown, current location, and all work and education information is available to any member of the public who searches the user’s name.

On one level this is logical, as this is the information that would matter to potential employers or business contacts, but this is also vital information to predators and stalkers.

Users who aren’t aware of recent changes to privacy settings or who assume that this type of information was automatically kept private could be vulnerable. Facebook often advises users to examine the new privacy settings when they are changed, but these notifications would have more of an impact if they explicitly stated the information that was currently public.
The “learn more” option goes into more detail about adjusting who can see each status update. There is the choice to publish where the user is, tag who the user is with, and manage who can see the status. Many people don’t consider or know that it is possible to exclude certain people from seeing their statuses, or posts that others make on their walls.

Often features such as these are not put into use until a problem has already occurred. Facebook could add a feature asking if the user wants all of their friends to see their status each time they post. Many may disable this question due to the hassle, but at least it would bring the different privacy options to users’ attentions.
There have also been concerns about Facebook being given more leeway to distribute its users’ information to advertisers. One needs to look no further than ads in the margins of Facebook that often correlate with the user’s interests to see the reality of this issue. In June, Facebook allowed users to vote on different aspects of privacy through comments, but again, this was not as widely publicized as it should have been.
Facebook has stated that it strives for “greater transparency, accountability and responsiveness.” If this is really the case, Facebook needs to advertise its new features and their implications much more prevalently. If Facebook intends to continue changing its layout and privacy features so often, it has a responsibility to keep its users up to speed.

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