Facebook Evolution: Privacy in the 21st Century

BY Dan Di Federico
2011/11/01

Since its inception in 2004, brands and marketers have embraced Facebook as an invaluable tool in communicating with customers and building brand recognition. Individuals use the service as a social tool to connect with friends and share bits of their lives. It has become a routine part of daily life for over 50% of Canadians. But Facebook has also been surrounded with endless controversy spanning issues of Internet security and personal privacy, particularly with the most recent changes to the platform. In order to protect your information it is important to understand the issues at hand and decide how you will make a stand.

Changes in 2011

With the addition of Open Graph for developers, an application will now be required to prompt the user only once to access their personal information. Once you accept, the app can share exactly what you’re doing as you are doing it. Everything can, and will, get posted. With the integration of news sites, music and video to Facebook, not only will every action be shared with your friends, you will also be seen as endorsing them.

These actions will eventually be added to the ‘Sponsored Stories’ advertisements for marketers. Now an individual’s name and profile picture will recommend a product to their friends. These will be used by paid advertisers and will make use of your information for private profit.

The addition of the Timeline has also been criticized for limiting privacy. This feature includes a collection of all the “stories” users have shared on Facebook over the years, as well as the pictures they’ve posted and the applications they’ve used.

What will the future hold?

The most controversial of the changes is the introduction of facial recognition technology. This software recognizes very distinct facial features and has the ability to identify who a person is based on an image. Facebook is currently aggregating a colossal photo-searchable database of users. Currently this feature is being used to suggest friends for picture tagging. What a time saver! Right? Well think about this: As you take a stroll through your neighbourhood, a stranger takes your picture, uploads it to their computer and now holds information including your name, age and address,  just to name a few. With advances in online banking technology, who’s to say this data couldn’t be compromised as well.  With advancements in facial recognitions software, it isn’t hard to understand why privacy might be the most concerning issue of the 21st century.

In 2009 the Privacy Commissioner of Canada found that Facebook was breaching Canadian privacy law when sharing  personal information with developers. The People’s Republic of China, Vietnam, Pakistan and others have banned use entirely, although reasons for doing so are controversial as well. Nevertheless, the company continues to expand at a rapid pace, having a valuation of $80-100 billion just recently achieved the milestone of its 800 millionth member. Have you had enough of Facebook’s privacy intrusion? Is Google+ a safer alternative? How will you respond to these changes?

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