Saturday, June 2, 2012

What Facebook Knows About You

Have you posted your birth date and year to your Facebook profile? Shared the birth dates and full names of your children? Identified family members? Confessed to substance abuse or hating your job?

Do you understand Facebook's privacy controls?

Consider the following numbers - and the reasons why Facebook users might think twice about what they share, published by Consumer Reports (quoted directly):
  • 4.8 million people have used Facebook to say where they planned to go on a certain day (a potential tip off for burglars).
  • 4.7 million “liked” a Facebook page about health conditions or treatments (details an insurer might use against you).
  • Almost 13 million users said they had never set, or didn’t know about, Facebook’s privacy tools. And 28 percent shared all, or almost all, of their wall posts with an audience wider than just their friends.
  • Even if you have restricted your information to be seen by friends only, a friend who is using a Facebook app could allow your data to be transferred to a third party without your knowledge.
  • U.S. online privacy laws are weaker than those of Europe and much of the world, so you have few federal rights to see and control most of the information that social networks collect about you.  
  • Eleven percent of households using Facebook said they had trouble last year, ranging from someone using their log-in without permission to being harassed or threatened. That projects to 7 million households—30 percent more than last year.

According to the article, data about you is being gathered by not just Facebook, but by third-party apps and games, employers, insurers, financial institutions, college admissions departments, and even the IRS. The translation is this: sharing too much on Facebook without monitoring your privacy controls can hurt your chances of getting a new job, being accepted for health insurance, getting a loan, or getting into college. Overall it sounds like the digital version of survival of the fittest.

Consumer Reports quotes a research firm that serves financial institutions and insurers: "Our electronic trails have been digitized, formatted, standardized, analyzed and modeled, and are up for sale. As intimidating as this may sound to the individual, it is a great opportunity for businesses to use this data.”

It's clear that sharing too much and/or not using adequate privacy settings can be risky for adults. But an estimated 5.6 million kids under the age of 13 have Facebook accounts (although Facebook self-imposed a 13-and-over age minimum). It's well documented that many parents of underage kids with Facebook profiles either don't know about their child's online activities, or they know about it but do nothing. Given that young kids are even more likely to be trusting, naive and share more than their older counterparts, this could amount to problems for many kids.

Parents should be educated on Facebook's data collecting practices, know what the risks are, and more than ever, become involved in their child's online activities.

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