Personal Data & Privacy Still Being Sacrificed On Facebook

TOPIC: facebook social network privacy risks

I've been consumed with class and lab preparations this first week of summer school, so haven't had the energy to blog for a few days.

But like so many (all?) of my undergraduate students here at Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, TN, I have a facebook page and have tinkered with it some over the past year or two, enjoying some of the extra connectivity it gives me to students (and faculty). Some of my students and friends have impressive facebook pages — some impressive in creativity, others impressive with their own form of blogging about their everyday lives and concerns, still others impressive with their ability to capture so much in their amateur photography.

I've often warned some of them about sharing too much on their pages, reminding them that future employers (e.g.) will be searching such social networking sites. Stupid pictures and off-color remarks can develop a frightening life of their own. And of course, facebook stalking is a concern.

Now there's even more to worry about. Turns out all the crazy, lovable, weird, and hated widgets and add-on applications now available (over 24k of them !?) routinely expose users' personal information to strangers:

Like David Dixon (quoted in the article), I too wondered "Why does a Sudoku puzzle have to know I have two kids? Why does a postcard need to know where I went to college?" But I naively assumed there was some good (and safe) reason for the widgets to need access to my personal info … perhaps this was needed in some technical way generally for the widget to install itself … (I thought hopefully) ? Mostly what surprises me here is how gullible I still am. And now I am wondering just what the widget developers are doing with all that data.

I'm also still wondering what drives so many people to put their personal information out there. Why share information hourly about our moods? Why worry daily about updating friends on exactly what we're doing or where we're going to be? As much as the phenomenon of social networking itself, the underlying generally unexamined motivations for participating are ripe for research.

Related References

Hart, Kim (2008). A Flashy Facebook Page, at a Cost to Privacy: Add-Ons to Online Social Profiles Expose Personal Data to Strangers. WashingtonPost.com, Thursday 12 June 2008, accessed 6/12/2008 at website http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/11/AR2008061103759.html