The ongoing disaster relationship that Facebook has with online privacy is not really a secret to anyone. They’ve been accused of everything from exploiting user data for behavioral marketing to pushing aggressive policy changes without gaining user consensus.
So, why worry about online privacy at all?
Now we don’t need to overstate the importance of why you need to ensure that your privacy is safeguarded even if you have nothing to hide. People have been fired over the one odd Facebook update and tweet. Updates from publicly visible accounts usually have a way of landing up on Reddit or 4Chan where they end up becoming fodder for online entertainment at the users’ expense.
The irony is that most social networking websites, despite all the controversy and news, do provide their users with enough and more tools and options to secure their presence online — that is if users themselves feel the need to — which for a vast majority, is unfortunately not the case.
What happens on Facebook stays on WKWYD
A few web activists are now trying to change the benign attitude and apathy that a majority of users display towards their own privacy. Nottingham based web developer Callum Haywood is one such activist. Sometime ago, he set up a website called We Know What You’re Doing — the website pulls user data using the Facebook Graph API from publicly visible Facebook profiles, and then displays it on the website for all to see.
“The [privacy] problem is not with Facebook themselves, when used correctly, their privacy controls are very good. The problem is how people simply don’t understand the risks of sharing everything,” says Haywood.
The website itself operates in good intentions and serves to raise awareness towards the issue of how shockingly vulnerable our online identities really are, but that doesn’t stop it from cataloging some potentially damaging user updates. Completely unaware of the fact that their updates are plainly visible to the entire Internet — users nonchalantly continue to ramble on about how much they hate their boss, how hungover they are, how much pot they’ve been smoking, and what’s their new mobile number.
The hope here is that people visiting the website will realize their social profiles are hardly the Fort Knox that they imagine and be pushed to employ corrective measures.
Here’s the advice that Haywood has for users: “Make sure your Facebook privacy settings are sufficient, for example don’t publish status updates containing potentially risky material as ‘Public’ because then they have a good chance of showing up in the public Graph API. “
One tool that deserve a mention here is Reclaim Privacy, which is a bookmarklet that gives you a quick scan of your privacy protection settings on Facebook, prompting you to make minor changes to ensure maximum security.
Need a debit card?
But hey, if you thought this rampant ignorance about what to share and what not to share online was a Facebook specific mass disorder, you’re wrong. Head over to Need A Debit Card account on Twitter to see users foolishly uploading pictures of their credit and debit cards for anyone to misuse. This account again, doesn’t have a malicious intent and clearly exists as a warning to users.
In fact, its bio states, “Please quit posting pictures of your debit cards, people.” But again, that stops neither the followers of the account or random people on the Internet from misusing the card. And of course, the plea hasn’t appeased anyone and the pictures keep pouring in every day. This is effectively the online equivalent of handing over your credit card to a thug and saying, “Hey buddy, go have some fun on my expense, why don’t you!”
So there you have it, people willingly sharing sensitive personal and financial data via unsecure profiles for the whole world to fish around with. The takeaway here is clear, be more aware about what you share online and where, the Internet is always listening. Your safety online is primarily in your hands, after all, there’s no app for common sense.
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About Vishveshwar Jatain
VJ is the associate editor of wireframe. He loves writing, cooking, technology, life hacks, weird people, strange things, and his alone time. When not creating a ruckus about the rampant misuse of apostrophes, he can be found writing stories about startups, entrepreneurship and social web.