October 5, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Pop Quiz: How much privacy do you give up on Facebook?

Pop Quiz: How much privacy do you give up on Facebook?

Every Facebook user has seen those quizzes. THOSE quizzes: 30 things you didn’t know about me, which superhero, sandwich or drink you most resemble and even those little fun applications and games. What if your precious little answers to those questions were being given away along with information, photos and posts from your friends? According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California  (ACLUNC) that indeed is the case, and they developed a quiz to demonstrate how big the privacy hole really is – and what you can do about it.

According to the ACLUNC press release, “Facebook’s default privacy settings allow nearly unfettered access to a user’s profile information,  including religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, photos, events, notes, wall posts, and groups.”

In fairness to Facebook, they issued a press release on August 27, 2009 with the promise of privacy improvements. This was in response to the recommendations of the Canadian Privacy Commissioner who had grave concerns over privacy issues. “These improvements will include new notifications, additions to Facebook’s Privacy Policy, and technical changes designed to give people more transparency and control over the information they provide to third-party applications.”

After reading both, I decided to give the quiz a go, and here is how it went:

First quiz question: “When you take a quiz on Facebook, what can the quiz see about you?”

The correct answer: “Almost everything on your profile, even if you use privacy settings to limit access.” They proved it to me by showing every photo I uploaded or was tagged in on Facebook, with every group and shared link I had.

Question 2: “What info about you can a quiz see when your friends take a quiz?”

The correct answer: “Almost everything on your profile, even if you use privacy settings to limit who can see that information.” The proof that quiz makers get access to your information was that I got to see some of my friend’s information – some that perhaps they didn’t want me to see.

Question 3: “There must be safeguards somewhere, right? My information is safe because … and several options are given.”

The answer explains that “the only protection Facebook offers by default is its Terms of Service, which state that developers must collect only the information that they need and use it only in connection with Facebook.” They go on to say a developer only needs an e-mail address. ” … who knows where they could end up or how they could be used. Shared? Sold? Turned over to the government?”

Question 4: “OK, that sounds like a real problem. So what should I do?”

They suggest that you demand the right to control your own information “without sacrificing the right to use new technology.” They point out Facebook does respond to user pressure, and in fact have done so more than once.

At the end of the quiz, they also provide the link to the privacy information page settings on Facebook and let you decide how to adjust them.  Facebook, in my opinion, is starting to use plainer language to make it easier for you to manage these settings.

Don’t (just) blame Facebook. There are many other sites with serious issues. The real question is now that you have this knowledge, how will it affect what and how you post? After all, Facebook provides a real value in connecting people in ways that were theory a mere 20 years ago.

There are at least two dynamics happening at the same time. First, we are ALL new in this widespread privacy balancing game. Second, there is a growing push to market to you. Not market to people like you, but specifically, personally, and up-close to your online personae. The upside is that you get more pertinent content and ads. The downside, where does the flow of your information end? Maybe at your insurance company to see how responsible you have/have not been?

It could become difficult to separate the good that technology provides from the privacy concerns, but try. And remember, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

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  1. Ilene

    Well written, Wayne, as always! So many people disregard privacy concerns in general, even given the tools and options available from the sites. When managing the security administrator for a large, SAP Human Resources implementation, I always gave as little access as possible to each user – once the “cat’s out of the bag,” it’s difficult reversing the process.

  2. Robin

    This is why nobody cares. I did not see one web sight about helping one person. The place we live in is to worried about them selves. All we need is to slow down and take a deep breath, and then think about the others.

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