Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Facebook Or Farcebook?

A few months ago I joined Facebook. At first, notwithstanding a little trepidation about security issues, I thought it might be a great way to reconnect with friends and family, and sure enough friends I hadn't communicated with for years, in some cases, were coming out of the woodwork. Photos, details about current employment, home and email addresses, personal interests, family videos, you name it, all of which was very interesting. But Facebook in some ways is also ultimately another face of public voyeurism. You can look in on most of what's going on in your friends'lives, which party they're going to attend next weekend, who their latest partner is, sometimes even why they dumped the last partner, or got dumped, or perhaps share some "juicy" gossip. It can get quite personal. There's even an update, if you're interested, where you can tell everyone connected with you what you're doing minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day (as if we would really be interested in what you had for lunch). Who needs Big Brother when you can voluntarily expose yourself? The thing that struck me, eventually, is how trusting we are, perhaps how naive we are.

What brought my fly-by-night Facebook adventure to a crashing halt was an anonymous email notification asking suggestive questions about my friends' sexual orientations and personal interests, obviously by someone also "connected" to all of us who knew this, but who fancied that what he/she thought was "funny" would be accompanied by universal, head-shaking laughter. That was when reality tapped me on the shoulder, and like John Lennon I began to "imagine" the possibilities, though not quite so positively.

According to my information there are 175 million Facebook users, and it's "the most visited social networking site", with nearly. 1.2 billion visits in January 2009. According to Business Week (August 2008) Facebook is valued at between $3.75 and $5 billion. And according to (Dec.16, 2008) The Age (Dec. 16, 2008) Facebook is showing unlimited future possibilities for legal eagles:

Canberra lawyers have won the right to serve legally binding court documents by posting them on defendants' Facebook sites.
In a ruling that could make legal and internet history, a Supreme Court judge ruled last week lawyers could use the social networking site to serve court notices.

Email and even mobile phone text messages have been used before to serve court notices, but the Canberra lawyers who secured the ruling are claiming service by Facebook as a world first.......

"The Facebook profiles showed the defendants' dates of birth, email addresses and friend lists and the co-defendants were friends with one another," a spokesman for the firm said. This information was enough to satisfy the court that Facebook was a sufficient method of communicating with the defendants.

So, using a hypothetical situation, if you're unfortunate enough to be scrutinised by the law at some time, for whatever reason, minor or major, or perhaps even in child custody cases where a legal eagle might want to investigate your likes, dislikes, girlfriends, boyfriends, and your most peculiar habits, Facebook could become their primary evidence.

Of course the old truism applies here; if you haven't done anything wrong you need not fear. Or do you? The experience of Sharon Flannery may indicate otherwise. According to a report in The Illawarra Mercury (Mar. 3, 2009):

Mrs Flannery only learned about 6pm on Saturday that some of Shaun's friends had posted details of the party on MySpace and Facebook. As partygoers started trailing into the backyard, Mrs Flannery grew concerned there would be more than the anticipated 100 friends, so her husband Mick reported the situation to Warilla police. About 11pm, six police cars arrived and officers told Mrs Flannery to turn off the music and shut the party down.Police closed off Helen St and spent the next two hours herding the gatecrashers from the area. During the fray a 14-year-old from Warilla was struck by a car. He sustained cuts and bruises and was treated at Wollongong Hospital. At Warilla Surf Club, youths threw rocks at police and the rear window of a police sedan was smashed, while another vehicle was damaged. Lake Illawarra Insp Steve Johnson said 10 people were detained and were later released pending further inquiries.

Gatecrashing parties isn't a new phenomenon. Mobile (cell) phones was a primary medium before Facebook and other social networks exploded in popularity. But mobiles had limitations which social networks don't.

In conclusion, this timely advice comes from ITS (Information Technology Services) on "Security Awareness":

In 2007, Facebook enabled user profiles to become searchable through its new Public Search Listings. If you have a profile posted on Facebook, and don’t want your name and profile picture indexed by one of the major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN Search, you need to edit your Facebook privacy settings. While Facebook has some restrictions on the Public Search Listing of a profile, many people post their information on Facebook without realizing it can be made available to virtually anyone with an Internet connection.

You should consider some other important things as well. First, while you can meet new friends online, you may also come into contact with malicious people misrepresenting themselves. These are people you don’t want to know. Internet thieves and sexual predators are only too eager to exploit personal information found on social networking sites. They are out there and willing to hurt you unless you take precautions to protect yourself.

And think carefully of some possible consequences of massaging your ego and vanity on Facebook:

Those Party Pictures Can Come Back to Haunt You

While one of the fun things about the Internet is sharing photos and messages with friends, keep in mind that the Internet is also a public resource. Only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing—including your parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, even potential employers. It’s not uncommon for companies to run an Internet search of job applicants before they offer them a position. Stories are increasing about people being “weeded out” from a job search due to compromising or ill-advised photos and information found on the Web. Even if you remove photos or information, they can still exist in archive caches or on another person’s computer. Once you post something, it truly is out of your hands. (bold emphasis added)

Good luck with your Facebook adventure, but don't say you haven't been warned.

Related Links:

1) New Koobface worm lets hackers play tricks on Facebook, MySpace members

2) And yet another Facebook Drama

Other Related Links:

Legal government spying on social media like Facebook. 

Snowden leaks: Five Eyes alliance, Australian involvement detailed. 

Everything you need to know about US security leaks and PRISM.

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