April 2, 2012 return to JayVee Media Link LLC
by Jeanine Vecchiarelli
An abundance of blog posts about internet privacy hit the web last week, illustrating the fact that the issue remains foremost and escalating in the minds of web surfers these days. The demand for privacy is hitting a fever pitch, particularly stoked by the recent changes in Google’s privacy rules as well as loopholes uncovered in Facebook’s policy as the platform is changing its layout to the new Timeline design. Growing concern is causing a considerable public outcry, demanding that privacy rules be tightened and strictly enforced.
Facebook: Exhibit One
Facebook received kudos late last week when it fought to crack down on the rising number of employers who were openly demanding the passwords of potential employees in order to do character evaluations. But while its stand was met with appreciation, Facebook was still coming under fire for fissures in its own privacy walls that were ripe for easy exploitation. Among other things, it was discovered that a loophole allowed users to stalk the profiles of other users. The breach resulted from profile users being unable to un-friend ill intentioned others who continually deactivated and then reactivated their profiles. Facebook has since patched that vulnerability. Another concerning practice that is ongoing is that third party applications can mine users’ personal data even if the users didn’t give permission for the apps to do so. If any of their Facebook connections use the apps, their information can be extracted as well. With practices like this one still in play, the old saying “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” comes to my mind. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy that Facebook is going after anyone who would demand the access information of another regardless of the reason. I just think the platform needs to clean its own house a little better in the process. Unfortunately, as it moves toward a public offering, Facebook has taken its eye off being a social network and is instead opting to be more of an advertising network. Hence, it seems unlikely that those policies will change any time soon. In other words, what’s good for them is not good for anyone else.
Google: Exhibit Two
The consolidation of information across all the various Google services has been the subject of much talk for several weeks now. The disturbing potential for trouble appears to outweigh considerably the stated benefits of improved, more personalized search results. Interestingly enough, even some of those close to the Google empire believe that it is taking things too far. In one instance, former employees of the corporation have launched a new company devoted to stopping Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and Facebook from tracking its users. Disconnect.me
is dedicated to the principle that internet users should be the owners and stewards of their own personal data. To that end, it is committed to expanding its service to block additional sites that track users and mine their private data.
Regardless of how you look at it, mining personal data is pervasive these days. And the issue is only going to become more onerous. As difficult as it is to accept, the only way to guarantee that your private information remains so is to diligently guard what you share and be mindful of your online behavior. Privacy settings MAY slow down the data mining process. But they are never a guarantee. As a detective with the Internet Crimes Unit of my county’s Sheriff’s Department once said, regardless of how stringently you set your privacy controls, once you click the share button all bets are off.
Are you altering your online behavior in the face of all the personal data mining reports that have swept across the internet lately? What steps do YOU take to protect yourself? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.