With Google’s recent announcement that they’ll now be adding real time information to web searches via Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites, I figured I would put together a post on the subject of online privacy.
I’m sure many of you have seen the latest wave of tweets, emails, and Facebook updates similar to the below excerpt:
As of today, Facebook will automatically index all your info on Google, which allows everyone to view it. To change this option, go to Settings –> Privacy Settings –> Search –> then UN-CLICK the box that says ‘Allow indexing’. Copy and paste onto your status for all your friends to see ASAP.
Now I’d like to dismiss this rumor as being entirely false, but the privacy of your Facebook (and your Twitter, Myspace, etc all) information is entirely up to you and your settings.
Read on to learn more about how to control your privacy, and how Google, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and the others are using your information.
First things first, Facebook has had public search listings for Google since 2007; here’s an example:
And according to Facebook:
The Public Search Listing of a profile shows the profile picture thumbnail and links to interact with a user on Facebook. People will always have to log in or register to poke, message or add someone as a friend. A user can also restrict what information shows in their public listing by going to the search privacy page. For instance, if a user does not want their profile picture to be shown, they can uncheck that box under “What people can do with my search results”.
Now the second part of the equation has to do with Facebook’s recent privacy changes. In the past, other Facebook users were only allowed to see your personal information if they were in your list of friends or your network (Facebook had networks for schools, work places, and geographic regions). But in an effort to simply things, Facebook has done away with networks and chosen a much more simplified approach to protecting your privacy.
Here’s the official word from Facebook (link):
The plan we’ve come up with is to remove regional networks completely and create a simpler model for privacy control where you can set content to be available to only your friends, friends of your friends, or everyone.
We’re adding something that many of you have asked for — the ability to control who sees each individual piece of content you create or upload. In addition, we’ll also be fulfilling a request made by many of you to make the privacy settings page simpler by combining some settings. If you want to read more about this, we began discussing this plan back in July.
Since this update will remove regional networks and create some new settings, in the next couple of weeks we’ll ask you to review and update your privacy settings. You’ll see a message that will explain the changes and take you to a page where you can update your settings. When you’re finished, we’ll show you a confirmation page so you can make sure you chose the right settings for you. As always, once you’re done you’ll still be able to change your settings whenever you want.
Now MySpace is a different beast when it comes to privacy settings, as they give you three options for most of your information: Anyone can view, Anyone 18 and over can view, Only my friends can view.
It’s great that MySpace allows its users to control their information and privacy, but it all falls on the user’s shoulder to control who they allow in to their circle of friends. Users also need to remember that anything on your MySpace page can be considered public information (as seen in this instance).
In fact, here’s a related story on adding friends (yes it involves Facebook, but it’s still completely relevant):
According to a recent report by the San Jose Mercury News, Sophos, a Boston-based Internet security company, was able to acquire highly personal information from 40% of the nearly 200 Facebook users who chose to add “Freddi Staur” as a friend in their Facebook accounts. Freddi Staur doesn’t exist, except as a toy on the desk of some Sophos employee. The company created a fictional person on Facebook to illustrate how vulnerable people can be when using social networks.
Ah yes Twitter, the hottest new tech trend today (well for those of you just now hearing about it from the major media outlets).
Now the main purpose of Twitter (when it launched) was an online service to let others know “What are you doing”. Yes, Twitter does allow users to protect their updates so that they are only visible by others in their friends/connections list, but with the multitude of APIs and remote access options it is all too easy to get your information. Twitter was meant to be a public service with public information, and that is what you should expect with any information that you provide through your Twitter profile.
Last but not least, the final piece of the equation involves the new deal between Google and the social networking sites that provides information for real-time search. Now this section only covers Google and its use of information from social networking sites, but you can expect that they will neither be the first nor the last.
Google’s real time search is still a relatively new service, but already they’ve signed deals with Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook to display their relevant information in your web searches. This means any of your information that is available to the public (based on your privacy settings) will now be available to Google to use in their real time search service.
Here’s a quick video from Google showing their real time search feature:
So the next time you’re using one of these social networking sites, be sure that you know how your information is being used, and that you control what is publicly available, and above all else remember this great tip from Mashable:
Assume what you post will be on the front page of the NY Times – No matter what lengths you go to in order to protect privacy, someone that is truly determined can probably find you out. Thus, even if you’re under an alias, you shouldn’t post things online you wouldn’t want the world to see at some point.
If you’d like to read more on this subject I’ve put together a few links to other sites that have some great articles on the subject of online privacy: