Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Poisoning The Well - A Response To Privacy Concerns...

Posted by Tom Foremski - May 18, 2010

Facebook is paving the way for lax privacy controls and where Facebook leads others are bound to follow.

Trying to control how much others know about you is going to become increasingly difficult. Yes, you can adjust your privacy settings, but this process is becoming increasingly complex.

The Price of Facebook Privacy? Start Clicking - NYTimes.com

Users must decide if they want only friends, friends of friends, everyone on Facebook, or a customized list of people to see things like their birthdays or their most recent photos. To keep information as private as possible, users must select “only friends” or “only me” from the pull-down options for all the choices in the privacy settings, and must uncheck boxes that say information will be shared across the Web.

Even if you do all that, Facebook has introduced a backdoor:

...some information will no longer remain private because Facebook has also added a feature, called community pages, which automatically links personal data, like hometown or university, to topic pages for that town or university.

Foremski's Take: Every time Facebook makes a change in its privacy provisions, you have to go through it all again. It's a never ending battle, with Facebook eventually winning because its users will get fed up or forget that another privacy change has happened and that they need to review their privacy settings.

Other sites will be doing the same because they have to, in order to be able to offer their commercial partners access to precise demographic and behavioral data.

So what can you do?

You can poison the well — list a bunch of false data.

You could change your occupation to "whale gynecologist." You can list unicorns as your favorite food. You could claim to be seven foot tall and your home town is Timbuktu. Fingers on a chalkboard is your favorite music. Or even better, change your age to 10 years old — there are strict rules about gathering data on children.

You can poison your data in such a way that your friends know it's a joke but Facebook, and others that don't know you, won't know.


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