We’re Using Facebook Differently. Is Your Personal Info Safe?

By  |  Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Facebook LogoWith the mass migration from MySpace to Facebook by a good portion of the social mediarati, the ways we are using the service is certainly changing. Before, the two sites had rather distinct user types. This lead to the sites being used in different ways.

MySpace always seemed to be more casual, and personal use ruled. The atmosphere was less formal, which meant functionality such as personal information really was not necessary. The people you were adding weren’t always necessarily your true “friends.”

Facebook was different. It’s roots as a connection between college students, and later on businesspeople, made it much more formal. Typically, if you were adding somebody on Facebook, you either knew them, were friends with them, or worked with them.

Thus, Facebook by design allowed you to enter personal data such as contact information. A good portion of us, myself included, likely put this information here because we wanted those on our Facebook to have that information if they needed it.

I have tons of people on there that I completely lost contact with and have reconnected as a result of the service, which I am pretty grateful for.

But things are changing. With MySpace out of vogue, that crowd is coming to Facebook. This means that the less formal use of MySpace, including adding people you might not necessarily directly know, is much more commonplace.

There’s just one problem. The way Facebook stores your personal data has not changed. I found this out the hard way, and didn’t realize it until my contact information was used in a stalking incident by a person I had added who I really did not know.

Laying out in the open as long as they were on my friends list was just about every bit of personal information about me, including address, phone number, email, and IM contact information. I was shocked that I had forgotten this data was there, because typically I am very good with maintaining control over personal information.

Facebook doesn’t make it easy to block the information, either. It’s privacy settings left little to be desired.

Essentially, I would have had to go through every single friend, adding them one at a time, to show my information to select people. This led me to think, how many other Facebookers may be inadvertently sharing information they may not be comfortable giving out?

Take this as a cautionary tale. Double check your Facebook to make sure you’re comfortable with the information you’re giving out: otherwise, you might find out the hard way.

Should Facebook do something? Probably yes. The methods to select who sees your data is a bit too cumbersome. Rather than making it a manual process, it might be better for the company to allow you to group friends, and from there allow/deny access to personal info.

I’m curious as to whether or not the ways you use Facebook have changed in this “post-MySpace era.” Have you checked to see how your data is being shared?



8 Comments For This Post

  1. Commenter Says:

    Really, it’s a usage issue; you’re responsible for choosing who you add as friends, knowing full well that they will then have access to the information you have posted.

  2. Bouke Timbermont Says:

    …I don’t get the problem? The way YOU use facebook didn’t change just because a new group of users arrived, did it? I know I didn’t suddenly start accepting people I don’t know, so I don’t think there is a problem.

    If the myspace-horde comes to facebook and starts friending everyone they can, that’s their choice. I think facebook is pretty clear on the fact your friends can see your info: if you don’t want them to, don’t add them or the info. I think that’s pretty simple and easy.

  3. Steven Fisher Says:

    Stop approving friends you don’t trust.

  4. JT Says:

    arstechnica did an article on Friday that shows how to divide your facebook friends into groups, and apply permissions to what they can see at the group level.

    Can’t you also get a “fan” page (for people you don’t know that want to add you because they like your articles), separate from your “personal” page (where you only add your real friends)?

  5. Sum Guy Says:

    Wow. This is so not an issue, it’s not even funny. Only re-re’s show all their contact info to all their friends. Not to mention the whole “groups” functionality you WISH existed ALREADY DOES and has for AGES.

    It’s slowly beginning to dawn on me that Technologizer is just about the worst collection of supposed technology news on the web. Just absolutely pitiful.

    Also, someone should really tell the guy with a hard-on for Google patents that there’s more to a patent than the farkin’ pictures.

  6. KevinF Says:

    First, I don’t put my phone number, address, or company name in my profile — why would I? Of course that’s just asking for trouble. If any old high school acquaintance needs to contact me, they can obviously use Facebook itself to do that. That’s the whole point of it.

    Further, yes you can already create multiple friend-groups, and allocate your friends among them; then you can tweak the privacy settings separately for each group. Actually I discovered this reading the NY Times a few months ago. Some friends can’t see my photo albums. Co-workers can’t see my status updates, etc. And one of my “friends” is actually an alter-ego I created specifically so I can verify what things do and don’t show up as I tweak privacy settings.

    It’s common sense to only accept real acquaintances as friends if you are at all concerned about privacy. I reckon some people get caught up in a race to collect as many friends as possible though, and ignore that.

  7. Sam Says:

    Good article. One thing I would suggest is checking a grammar site for the usage rules of it’s/its.

  8. Ric Says:

    Further to Sam’s comment, also find out the meaning of “left a lot to be desired”. Just as you didn’t know what you were doing by adding as a friend someone you didn’t even know, I don’t think you knew what you meant by “left a little to be desired”.

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