Online Privacy Diminishes with Facebook and Users Keep Coming Back For More: The Social Media Privacy Report

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Many might have been surprised that Mark Zuckerberg, the King of the Facebook Empire himself, was named Time Magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year. Zuckerberg was negatively portrayed in the movie The Social Network, and the film also revealed the many legal problems the site faced in its beginnings. In addition, Facebook was at the center of significant privacy concerns in 2010 as it continually rolled out new features that jeopardized the privacy of its users. But despite this, even as members of the social network were dissatisfied and had concerns, they used Facebook status updates to voice their opinions, and continued to use the site to keep sharing links and posting pictures.

Recent Changes and Privacy Concerns for Facebook

  • Smaller Fonts, More Ads: In mid-December, Facebook changed its profile, pages and newsfeed display, and many users were unhappy with the resulting smaller font. An opinion piece on techcrunch.com was especially vocal about its dislike for the new design, claiming that the redesign was intended to help Facebook bombard users with even more advertisements and that the site implemented “a significant reduction in… social media experiences with… friends.”
  • More Juicy and Private Details on Walls: Facebook has always let it be known when a user has written on another user’s wall or commented on a picture. But along with the aforementioned new design, Facebook now not only shows that a user commented, but also displays specifically what was written. Currently there is no privacy setting for this feature that allows users to opt out; the only alternative is to delete each comment from your profile’s feed manually.
  • Face Recognition: Facebook is slowly rolling out a new tagging feature for the site which recognizes the faces of your friends. When a picture is uploaded, the technology can go through your friends list, match up facial characteristics and suggest the person you should tag. Facebook is allowing users to opt out of this feature to protect privacy. Users will only be able to tag friends and, as always, you can untag yourself from any photo.
  • Goldman Sachs Gives Facebook $$: Starting off the new year, Facebook received a generous investment from Goldman Sachs of $500 million. According to The NY Times this means that the network can up its technology ante and also, “Facebook hopes for an even bigger advantage from the deal, the ability to delay an initial public offering. That would allow it to remain free of government regulation and from the volatility of Wall Street.”  This means we will likely see more concerns on Facebook and user privacy in 2011.

While these issues perpetuate, the discrepancy grows: according to a December, 2010 poll by Rasmussen Reports, 50% of Americans now use social networking sites – up from 29 percent in January 2009. However, 82% of these users are at least “somewhat concerned” about the security status of the personal information they have populated on social networking sites. This is clear from the fact that over the New Year’s weekend, Facebook had a record-breaking number of pictures uploaded to the site, more than 750 million, according to Mashable.com.

So registration is up; the network easily zoomed passed 500 million users in July, 2010 and privacy concerns loom. What are users doing to get their online security back? One unique response has been dubbed the “super-logoff.”  CNN reports that privacy-minded users deactivate their account every time they log out. By doing so, their account still exists; none of their friends get erased and all of their data, such as pictures and wall posts are still there, but no one can see their profile, tag them in photos or a status, or post on their wall while they are “super-logged-off.” Thus, they have greater control of what is said or done to their account by other parties than the average user.

As the privacy threats posed by Facebook grow, will you continue to be an active user of the network? Which of the aforementioned security concerns do you find most unsettling? Is the super-logoff a solution or just a temporary fix to a growing problem?

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Jillian Ryan

Jillian Ryan is PRIVATE WiFi's Director, Brand Communications and Social Strategy. With a passion for writing, the web, and fast-paced information exchanged via social networks, Jillian is also concerned about the ramifications of putting your life details and personal data into cyberspace. Follow her on Twitter: @Writing_Jillian.