I was lucky. I got my first harsh lesson on Internet privacy when I was 12. I was probably the most Internet-savvy person in my household, and the only advice I got about message boards was ‘You Never Know Who Someone Could Actually Be’ – and I took this advice to heart. So much, in fact, that when one of my friends (let’s call her Sydney) began frequenting message boards for our favorite TV shows, I was nervous for her. But she didn’t seem to share my concerns.
So with perfect 12-year-old logic, I went online to fight fire with fire. I made an online account (alias ‘Jen’) on her favorite message board, and soon enough, Sydney and Jen ended up on the same chats, and Sydney even engaged Jen in an email discussion. They became friends. But when Sydney began telling Jen about me, I realized it was time to reveal what I had done and who Jen was. Not only did this revelation throw a major wrench in our friendship, but I learned first-hand just how easy it is to hide who you are online.
Yes, I am aware this was creepy, an invasion of privacy, and super skeevy to do to a friend. Yet at the same time – apart from Sydney, who else cared that Jen was a made up persona? No one. Why? Because no one knew.
Today, Facebook is one of the most popular sites out there. A person’s LinkedIn profile often tops the list in a Google name search. These sites make it harder to create a false identity, and though it is still possible, people rarely take the time to fabricate a persona on Facebook the way they did on MySpace. But with dedication and some time, anything is possible.
It’s easy to think that the person on the other end of the Internet is actually who their picture and profile say they are. But perhaps the parent of someone who went to your college is the hiring manager of that job you just applied to. The chance that your potential boss is now able to see your Facebook page just jumped exponentially.
Legal? Yes. Ethical? Maybe. What do you think? Once it’s on the Internet, is it public for all to see? Is it the same as if you handed your friend a physical photo, and he showed it to his mom? Do you know that technically any photo you upload to Facebook is visible to the entire Internet, so long as they use the hidden link and not the one you see in your URL bar?
Facebook recently settled a privacy suit and that acknowledged it had engaged in deceptive privacy practices by, among other things, allowing user data to be shared via third parties without the original uploader’s knowledge. This meant that while I might have chosen not to share my data, an application could access my information because my sister had allowed the app to see the data from her friends. Much like I was able to find things out about my friend Sydney from what she told to Jen, once someone knows details about a person, they have the ability pass those details on – regardless of how that information has been obtained.
And once information is put somewhere on the Internet, it exists and is available for anyone to find, should they so choose to put in the effort.
So… do you know who all your Facebook friends are? And more importantly, how much do you trust them?
~ Allie Heiman, Assistant to the Production Manager