1. Facebook Privacy is Your Responsibility

    At the 2010 F8 Conference Facebook launched their latest platform feature that allows selected partners to customize your experience on their 3rd party website before you even arrive, based on information from your profile. This concerns me.

    What concerns me is not the program itself, but rather that people seem to think that privacy online is the same concept as their interpretation for their own personal privacy. However, the truth is that not all levels of privacy are the same.

    To illustrate my point here’s an example: the privacy I expect from a fence around my back yard is to give me security from prying eyes as I host a BBQ is not the same privacy that I expect when a bank is dealing with my financial data.

    I think that we can agree that the technology and level of privacy needed between these two examples is huge.

    Unlike the majority of web-users out there, the tech community tends to be a bit more savvy about protecting their identity online. There is certain information that I simply don’t put online, and each interaction with a website is a choice to share information about yourself, personal or otherwise.

    The average web user who isn’t aware of the amount of data that is collected about them seems willing to over-share massive amounts of information through their public profiles only to act surprised when they realized that the information is out there for others to read and use.

    Those who scream at Facebook about their privacy controls seem to forget the basics of privacy — the privacy of your information online is ultimately your responsibility. You are choosing to upload each photo, each tweet, each message, and in the reality of the web is that security is not absolute.

    Why Facebook’s Instant Personalization Concerns Me

    I’ll tell you now, what doesn’t concern me is that Facebook might share personal information from it’s users without their prior consent. They have a terms of service to maintain, before any of your information is sent, you have to agree to it, and the legal ramifications of what would happen to Facebook if they were to give your private data away without your permission are huge…

    What does concern me is that the average user doesn’t bother to stop and read a terms of service, they don’t stop to think about what they are sharing. The average user simply views security prompts and questions as annoyances that must be blindly clicked through in order get to the content or feature that they want.

    The average person relegates their privacy to a corporate identity without a second thought. How stupid is that?

    How do we fix this? I can tell you now, the issue is not entirely on Facebook’s shoulders. Before online privacy can be insured, the end user must take some responsibility for their information.

    Basics of Online Privacy

    Stop & Think – Stop posting personal information to the web without thinking first. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself “do I want ‘random’ people to know this information?” before sharing information out into the world. If there is no cognitive process to your online activity, you are not going to stay safe online!

    Read Terms of Service Documentation – How many times have you signed up for a service, and simply checked the box that says “I Agree to the Terms of Service” without ever bothering to read them? Stop skipping these, browse through them, realize that you are in essence signing a legal agreement with a business.

    Read a Privacy Policy – Read a website’s privacy policy. These are more than complex lawyer speak, they are the definition of your privacy rights with a website or company.

    Filter Yourself – Even though sites like Facebook are a place to share personal experiences, photos, and stories, they are still an online publication. Accidents can happen. When sharing to Facebook, decide whether if it is an appropriate place to share that particular set of content. Uploading pictures of your child’s birth, forgetting to set “who can see these”, and then sharing it out to all your 500 friends is a mistake that -you- make, not Facebook.

    Educate Yourself – Spend 20 minutes researching the legal obligations of a business or website to protect the information that they collect about you. There may be specific legislation in place that requires additional levels of protection of your information.

    Stop Making Excuses – Own Your Privacy!

    The resulting slew of privacy blogs that pop up every-time Facebook makes a change to their service is starting to get old. If I see one more person send me an email demanding that I sign their petition to “make Facebook change x program” I’ll get sick.

    Controlling the privacy of your information on Facebook is easy. If you are too lazy to take 2 minutes to review your information and confirm the settings you are not cut out for online life.

    To illustrate the point, I’ve made a simple youtube video where I review my privacy information on Facebook in under 5 minutes. [Update: This video is probably not current, and remains here for reference only]

    How do you control your privacy online? Discuss in the comments!