It seems that every time I log onto Facebook I am bombarded with images and status updates that are extremely personal. It appears that people are almost too eager to share the personal aspects of their lives through social media. Whether it is the fact that they believe people are generally interested in what they ate for dinner, or if they are just using social media to express what is on their mind, our generation has lost touch with the distinction between the ‘private’ and ‘public’ self. Not only are people extremely open on Facebook, but the social media site is designed to make people divulge information about themselves. The fact that Facebook has the option of sharing every little thought that crosses one’s mind, or the fact that photo albums can be created in just minutes to document any life event, shows that Facebook was designed to allow people to share their lives with the world.
Even if we look at the basic features of a Facebook profile, the website prompts you to fill in information about yourself that can be seen by anyone who visits your Facebook page, even if they are a stranger. Information that is commonly shared includes:
- Your name
- Your birthday and age
- Your hometown
- The town you currently live in
- Your sexual orientation
- Where you went to/go to school
- Where you work
It is a little bit odd that we are willing to let any stranger know where we work or what town we currently live in, but hey that’s the power of Facebook.
The feature of status updates grants users an all-access pass into the minds of their Facebook friends. Many thoughts that would not normally be voiced out loud are instead shared virtually. How about this gem, taken from one of my own Facebook friends after she had given birth to her daughter: “It’s so awkward when I’m being told to sell my breast milk because I’m producing so much. Two weeks and already my freezer is full!” My congratulations go out to her for being able to compete in the Lactation Olympics, but this is the kind of information that the Facebook world does not need to know about. It seems our generation has forgotten that there is such thing as “too much information”.
Another basic Facebook feature of creating photo albums also facilitates the easy viewing of users’ private lives. Normally, I would have no way of seeing the firsthand view of events in most people’s lives. However, thanks to Facebook photo albums we are granted access into people’s personal experiences via photos. Reading week has just ended, and seeing as I did not travel I am very jealous of all the people who did go somewhere tropical for Spring Break. My Facebook homepage is now full of photo album uploads, with hundreds of photos depicting friends’ vacations. These images, which really should only be seen by the people who were involved in the vacation and perhaps family members, are instead able to be viewed by the hundreds of friends these people have on Facebook.
It appears that the relationship between Facebook and privacy is a vicious cycle. Not only are users more willing to share aspects of their personal lives, but Facebook is constantly updated with features that prompt the sharing of personal events. This in turn makes users share more of their private lives with the Facebook world. A recent update, called Facebook Check-Ins, allows users to update their location using GPS technology. For example, when dining out at a restaurant, users have the ability to “check in” and add the location of the restaurant they are at. While this may seem like an innocent feature of this social media website, allowing other Facebook users to know your exact whereabouts sounds a bit dangerous. It is every stalker’s dream to be given a list of the exact location of their victims, and Facebook essentially does just that. Users need to be aware that there are dangers associated with updating Facebook on every little detail of their lives.
Facebook’s Misuse of Users’ Information
Probably the most alarming aspect of Facebook is the recent agreement that the company settled with online advertisers. According to the Toronto Star, Facebook is now able to sell users’ data to advertisers in order to enhance the efficiency of advertisers’ online marketing ploys. These advertisers are willing to pay big bucks in order to gain access into the personal status updates, check-ins, and product mentions on Facebook. But what would they want this information for? Online advertisers are hopeful that with this insight they can direct their products at the right people, who have shown interest in their product or similar products based on information they have provided via Facebook. This means that the online ads that pop up along the sidebar of your Facebook page have been strategically placed there to correspond to your Facebook history. To me that sounds like an extreme breach of users’ privacy, now that our status updates can be seen by people who are not our Facebook friends. Also, just because I make a status update about a certain product does not mean I want to be targeted by the company’s online ads.
Ultimately, the level of privacy that one’s Facebook account has is in the hands of the user. There are privacy features of Facebook that allow status updates and photos to be seen only by friends, while being blocked for the rest of the Facebook world. If the uncertainty of Facebook’s privacy settings is truly troubling for some individuals, they could always delete their Facebook accounts altogether (*GASP*). However, the aspects of the website that are not under our control, such as the selling of individuals’ Facebook status history, is definitely a cause for concern for all users.