Dear Facebook friends: please don’t take this the wrong way, but I feel like there’s something that you should know.
I’m glad that you resemble Meredith Grey out of all of the “Grey’s Anatomy” characters, and it’s nice to know that one of the five items you would wield during a zombie attack is a lightsaber, but I’m not interested in taking that quiz or “choosing my own five.”
I don’t want to join your Mafia War, nor do I care that you are “movin’ on up in FarmVille!” I hope my lack of cooperation doesn’t affect our online or in-person relationship.
Facebook’s main purpose in the past was to serve as a convenient way for friends to stay connected, as well as provide a simple distraction to help pass time. Natalie Paredes, a third-year studio art major, uses Facebook primarily as a way to easily keep in touch with friends, especially those who are studying abroad.
“I know they will check their Facebook and post pictures of their adventures so I can still see how they’re doing,” says Paredes.
As Facebook’s membership continues to grow, long-time users are starting to see a significant change in the site’s function. More recently, the popularity of applications and quizzes has taken over the site.
“Now my News Feed is always full of people achieving new levels on FarmVille. I find it rather annoying,” says Paredes. “I want to know how you are, not how your damn virtual tomatoes are.”
Logging onto Facebook nowadays results in less communication, more ridiculous requests and an even greater violation of privacy.
On July 16, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart accused Facebook of violating Canadian privacy laws. She criticized the site’s flawed privacy protection, revealing that the site kept users’ personal information indefinitely, regardless of whether they closed their accounts.
In addition, third-party applications that have turned Facebook into a virtual playground are actually causing more harm than fun.
The Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently developed a Facebook privacy quiz in order to raise awareness about the privacy issues surrounding Facebook applications. Their quiz revealed that your profile becomes fair game the minute you allow a quiz or application to access your profile information, even if you use privacy settings to limit access. Third-party developers are able to see everything from your name and hometown to the events you attend and the groups you join. Facebook quizzes may claim to help you discover your identity, but by allowing the quiz to access your profile, you could be losing your identity instead.
Even the most paranoid Facebook users aren’t safe. What most people don’t know is that if your Facebook friend takes the “What’s your Native American Indian name?” quiz, the quiz’s developers are able to access your information, even though you never allowed that application to access your profile.
“It’s disturbing how much they actually know about us,” says Andrea Jensen, a third-year psychology and social behavior major. Jensen says she rarely logs onto Facebook anymore as a result of the site’s poor privacy policies. “I hate that you have to tell them not to use your pictures in ads for your friends.”
Facebook responded soon afterwards by promising to protect their members. Throughout the summer, Facebook made several changes to their privacy settings to make users feel safer on the site.
However, it still isn’t enough. While many users like Jensen are using Facebook less and less, some are taking a more extreme approach. Rather than simply deleting applications and changing their privacy settings, many are choosing to boycott the site entirely. Leif Harmsen, a Canadian artist, is leading a campaign encouraging users to shut down their Facebook profiles. “It is not ‘your’ Facebook profile,” writes Harmsen on his official Web site. “It is Facebook’s profile about you.”
The ACLU suggests that Facebook change its default privacy settings to allow each user to truly be in charge of their own information. It also suggests that Facebook begin screening third-party developers. At the moment, the site allows anyone to create applications and quizzes, which exposes members’ profiles to anyone with an Internet connection and a few minutes to create a quiz.
“There is nothing even remotely resembling civil liberties on Facebook,” Harmsen adds. “Their ‘Terms of Service’ and ‘policies’ are irrelevant because it is their Web site (not yours); they require no reason and can do as they please without your permission.”
Anyone can be looking at your profile and at your friends’ profiles, too. So, take some time to change your privacy settings. Figure out who or what is accessing your profile. Delete old applications and quizzes. Stop posting your cell phone number and home address. And, if you can, stop trying to get me to adopt that black sheep you found on your virtual farm.
Filed Under: Features