Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is Facebook Private?

Lately people are talking about the "new Facebook privacy settings" and I wonder, once again, why anybody still thinks Facebook, MySpace, or any other social networking site (much less any other data you have stored on someone else's computer) is private in any way, shape, or form. After all, the basic premise of the web and the Internet is that you store data on a computer or computers that other people can access.

Social networking is the latest example of Orwellian 'newspeak' in action. Facebook's "privacy settings" take that to another level in an attempt to provide the feeling of security when placing one's personal information on the Internet. When I read the discussion of these new features I can't help but be further convinced that nothing you put on the Internet is private. (Let's not even talk about what people might be doing with the information that we all freely give away every day.)

To take the Orwellian metaphor even further consider these quotes:

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."

It is truly difficult to see what risk you take when it's so much fun doing something. Sometimes you can't know the problems you are facing because they have not surfaced. Still, if you read about the pitfalls of social networking it's hard not to think of them as an accident waiting to happen. Which leads me to this Orwellian quote:

"Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it."

I think about this all the time being a teacher at a modern, college prep, high school filled with high tech students who are living large online. Having grown up living in a house with a high school teacher I recall my own sense of being smarter than my parents and the teachers in most of my classes. Today I see the folly in those thoughts. However, I do see that the younger generation has something for us to see and use in the world today. We just need to find a balance between the true wisdom of those who came before us and the new knowledge and intelligence gathered by young people today.

Here is a note I sent out to all the staff and students at school this week. I hope you take the time to think about what you decide to put out there on the Internet.


Hi Everyone,

I hope you are all doing well and getting ready to enjoy some down time from school and all the pressures of exams. During the coming weeks you may find that you have some extra time to enjoy some entertaining moments with your Facebook friends.

You should all be aware that Facebook has announced and will be implementing new privacy settings for all accounts. These changes will make it much easier to broadly share your personal information. If you accept Facebook's recommended privacy settings, Facebook will make your status updates, links, photos, videos, and notes available to the entire Internet via all the major search engines.

I recommend that you explore your settings and manually adjust them to your own personal needs. Select Settings -> Privacy Settings from the blue menu bar and review the options in there.

In addition, you should be aware that Facebook will now share a standard set of your personal information both on the Internet and with third-party Facebook applications. This includes your name, profile photo, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and pages. This information is now considered visible to everyone and you do not have control to change that setting (unless you close your account).

The attached article explains the change in greater detail.

I encourage you to raise this topic with your friends and relatives. Let me know if you have further questions.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays to one and all,



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