Last night, at a diner party, people were discussing the latest online privacy issues concerning the recent changes by Facebook. One friend mentioned what she likes about people’s online presence is the fact that it is so easy to gather so much information about people. The other said she doesn’t have a Facebook account out of fear for her privacy, and mainly of loosing control over her information online.

This morning I found the latter’s personal details online: her name, position, home address, land line and mobile phone number, email, and at least one clear photo with her husbands on some non-profit organization’s newsletter.

Privacy is no longer.

Or at least it is re-defined.
If you live in this online era, you have to understand that defining your privacy on Facebook, even before the recent changes in the privacy settings, is like whispering to a friend when you are in a packed mall. You might think that only your friend heard what you whispered, but you can never be sure that a lip reader haven’t got you from the other end of the passage. You can also never be a hundred percent sure that this friend won’t repeat what you said and quote you.

Being online is being public. Being connected is being part of the public. I am not saying you can’t live without it, I’m just saying that chances are you are friends with someone who is online, and that means that a part of you, belongs to your friend, and is probably already online in a way. I think it’s valuable to gain control over your online presence. People can tag you in a photo even if you are not on Facebook or not connected to them. When you are, and the photo didn’t come out nice, you can remove your tag. If you are on Facebook and you want to see what people can see about you – use this tool. What ever is there – is available because you put it there.

The big commotion in the recent days concerns Facebook sharing your preferences and interests with advertisers, which are 3rd parties. The loss of control can justly freak us all out. Even though you are not obliged to fill out all this information – your preferences, favorites, activities and hobbies – many choose to do it, as a way of declaring their identities to their online friends, some of which don’t really know them closely. The only upside I see about the transfer of this information is that I might actually get to see some targeted advertising, and not irrelevant sometime offensive ads. If I chose to publish my interest to my hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Facebook friends, I see no problem in advertisers using this data. As long as they don’t get my personal data such as phone numbers or email or private address. There I would definitely draw the line, or start using fake data, which would back fire to Facebook.

The other thing is the Facebook “like” button populating other sites. Clicking it shows on this site, to your friends, that you liked the site or the post, and it shows on your profile too. The only difference from the previous share option is that the site may present its likers too. As a blog owner I want to use it too. Unfortunately, wordpress.com don’t enable this yet, and so I have to settle for the lesser version of “getsociallive” and present my likers on their servers.

The Young Problem

The main problem with online presence really concerns kids. Officially Facebook meets the COPPA laws by limiting the age of registered users to 14 and up. Practically, the average user age is dropping every day. Kids lie about their age without a blink, not thinking about it twice, and consider Facebook their own environment.

They connect with classmates, sometimes with older kids, sometimes with younger kids, but they also connect to their parents, or teachers, or guides, or friends of their parents, or older friends of the older sister… I hardly know any kids on Facebook who is not connected to adults.

The connection itself is OK. Sometimes even blessed. It leads to better relationship between youth and adults and opens a sort of a back channel of communications. But many of those kids, sometimes “friends collectors” aren’t fully aware of the face that each status may reach many circles. It’s pretty complicated for a child to manage his connections into groups and then choose each time who gets to see what.

In addition, when they submit information about themselves they often use humor and exaggeration, and not necessarily their true interests, which in turn might lead to exactly the wrong type of ads for them.
Facebook is ignoring this problem. Officially they have no data relating to kids. But at some point they will have to create a young Facebook, to enable safe and legal usage of Facebook by kids.