Thursday, 20 January 2011

Parents And Facebook Privacy Concerns: What Are The Risks? Are some Of The Fears Unfounded?

‘Parents and Facebook privacy concerns’ is a frequently recurring theme that only keeps growing in prominence online and in millions of homes across the globe owing to an explosion of teenage usage of the social networking website. The stance taken on this issue is largely determined by a user’s own personal experience, whether such a user is a parent or not and the generation to which that user belongs.. It may also be worth noting that quite a few parents themselves are actually Facebook users.

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, upholds the belief that privacy means different things to different generations. Whereas a middle-aged couple would have no desire for the world to see photos of their romantic dinner at a posh restaurant, young people would be chomping at the bit to let the world know about any fun social event.

A lot of the issues relating to parents and Facebook privacy concerns have to do with attitude and as with everything, teenagers’ attitudes to Facebook is distinctly different from that of their parents.

What is Facebook?

Facebook was set up in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and his close friends, while he was a Harvard student. It quickly grew to become the largest social networking site in the world as well as one of the internet’s top three most visited destinations – plus, it now boasts of a userbase of over 550 million.
It’s a social portal that allows users to keep in touch with friends and make new friends and lets users to post/send/share messages, photos, links, random thoughts, etc… Business people use it to promote their products and services while artists and writers use it to promote their creative works.Since 2006 Facebook has lowered the age with which a person can sign up to the site to 13. The only requirement, besides age, is a valid email account.

What are the concerns?

Central to these concerns is the fact that Facebook is used by a multitude of teenagers, some even below the required age limit and as such has become the focus of the media, social experts and the wider public, particularly parents.

A case in point is that of Phoebe Prince, the Irish girl who committed suicide in early 2010: she was seen as a clear victim of this sort of Facebook abuse. Bullies from her school in Massachusetts had posted horrible statements about Phoebe as well as tormenting her outside of school. Her death thrust Facebook into the headlines again and clearly demonstrated how teenagers and young persons could use the social networking site to victimise and bully classmates.

Another concern is one where kids use Facebook to warn other kids about bullies at school. This aspect of Facebook is clearly a double-edged sword for parents as it presents them with a dilemma with regard to what nature of guidance to give to their teenage children. If approached incorrectly, it could be tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Also worrying for parents and Facebook privacy is the fact that so many teenagers willingly disclose their full names, addresses and full date of birth. Disclosure of this type of information paves the way for the criminal minded type to use such details for nefarious purposes such as bank fraud or paedophilia.

In 2007, Facebook lit up a firestorm amongst privacy campaigners when they removed privacy controls from users’ news feeds and mini feeds. This lack of control meant that users had no hand in selecting what was published within their news feeds which in turn gave rise to “news feed spamming” consequently making it easier to victimise users particularly the teenagers. This issue has since been addressed and users can now elect to filter out specific content types from their news feed and also choose who sees what.

What is Facebook's privacy policy?

Users must be over 13. But like any online system, Facebook is not fool-proof. It’s relatively easy for a new user to lie about their age and there is no doubting that users under 13 do exist.Read more about Facebook's privacy policy here.The policy contains nine sections, and you can jump from one section to another by following the relevant links.

Moving on ...

Facebook is aware of the privacy concerns that blight its service and as such has undertaken every effort to circumvent these problems. They do not want to become another Chatroulette -- which allows people from all over the world to communicate via webcam but eventually came to be a breeding ground for the sexually perverse. The chief problem here was the curious absence of sufficient privacy controls from the outset. Facebook periodically amends its privacy policy. It aims is protect a user’s profile information from third party applications or websites that may want to use that information for either promotional or criminal intentions.

That said, in July 2010, Ron Bowes was able to scan information from Facebook and collect over 100 million profiles. Bowes then published the information which included the URL for each user, their email and personal ID names. Facebook claimed that this information was already in the public domain but this episode only served to raise parental jitters about Facebook and privacy.

It looked as if Facebook applications were under attack again later in 2010 when a group of Turkish Internet hackers fiddled with Facebook’s translation services. The group tweaked the system to replace standard translated messages with sexually explicit messages. The translation service was subsequently removed from Facebook in some countries.

Parental Vigilance

Parents and Facebook privacy concerns is not an issue that is going to go away overnight. The reach, power and sheer size of Facebook is too vast to expect quick fixes to this problem. The good news however is that Facebook is actively tackling this problem with reasonable success. Most important however is that parents remain uniquely vigilant. As with any other service, information is key. Parents are more likely to be concerned over what they don’t really understand so it is up to parents to make every conceivable effort to be accurately informed about Facebook’s services and its restrictions or privacy policy and continuously monitor just how tightly such policies are upheld. Up-to-date information is perhaps the only way to calm the nerves of parents and their concerns about Facebook privacy.

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1 comment:

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