Saturday, 20 March 2010


Facebook offers stalkers a new service - is privacy on the internet a foolish notion?

  • Saturday, 20 March 2010
  • Fouad GM
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  • As if Facebook needed to come up with new ideas and applications to help stalkers track their victims' social life down.

    The internet-based social networking website announced that starting next month, the more than 400 million Facebook users could begin seeing a new kind of status update flow through their news feed: the current locations of their friends. Yes, the GEOGRAPHICAL location from which you send updates and comments might be made public to your friends and contacts by the internet giant.

    Facebook plans to take the wraps of the new feature in April in conjunction with f8, a Facebook conference where "developers and entrepreneurs collaborate on the future of personalized and social technologies."

    Facebook has, time and again, changed its Privacy Policy to accommodate its ever-growing need and desire to expand its market share of advertisements and the marketing business upon whom Facebook depends for income.

    According to a New York Times article, the new location feature will have two aspects, according to the people familiar with Facebook’s plans. One will be a service offered directly by Facebook that will allow users to share their location information with friends. The other will be a set of software tools, known as A.P.I.’s, that outside developers can use to offer their own location-based services to Facebook users.

    So far, we - the users of Facebook - are promised the choice of participating in any feature that shares and publicises location or not. "Location Information. When you share your location with others or add a location to something you post, we treat that like any other content you post (for example, it is subject to your privacy settings). If we offer a service that supports this type of location sharing we will present you with an opt-in choice of whether you want to participate."

    However, this could well change over night and with little or no input from the 400 million users subscribed today to Facebook. After all, when Facebook changed its privacy settings depriving its users from the right to restrict access to their "friends list" by corporate and individual users (friends or otherwise), the internet social networking website paid - and continues to pay - no attention to the hundreds of thousands opposing the move.

    The uproar came as Facebook announced new privacy settings in December 2009 giving users some additional control over what information they share, while taking away the ability to hide a few pieces of information from the general public. Business networks, professionals, travellers and parents were all concerned about their inability to restrict others' access to their friends' lists.

    A CNet report, however, notes that Facebook quickly backtracked. A day later, the company announced on its blog that users can now uncheck the "Show my friends on my profile" option in the Friends box on their profile so that your friend list won't appear on your publicly viewable profile. However, Facebook users are still unable to restrict access to their friends list by limited profiles, certain friends and Facebook's corporate users despite the continued uproar and the thousands of complaints that have appeared on the Facebook Blog.

    Facebook groups and other means of protest have been used to express outrage at Facebook's incremental violation of users' right to privacy, but so far - all have gone to no avail.

    Next month, 400 million Facebook users will see how imposing Facebook's new location sharing feature will be - will the company's privacy policies be changed again to impose the feature upon all users? After all, the Facebook feature will allow marketing giants to intercept their customers and target them more successfully - a money-generating business for all at the expense of users' privacy.

    One reader from Indiana comment on the New York Times article expressing sarcasm at those who continue to fight for the notion of privacy on the internet. PJ writes "The notion of "privacy" on the internet is a foolish, foolish one when packet intercepting software is in widespread distribution and use. Anyone with it can track everything you do online, anywhere at anytime without you knowing it [...] Granted, if you're dumb enough to broadcast when you're not home or where you are you get what you deserve. we need FEWER idiots, not more."

    PJ might be right, but the real issue here is: will it take an idiot broadcasting where he/she is? Or will this new feature deprive you of that choice and do the broadcasting on your behalf - whether you're an idiot or not?

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