Facebook: Grooming the World’s Most Valuable Asset

This week’s reading and guest speakers made for some very interesting discussions about privacy.  In this blog posting, I’ll discuss the privacy settings of Facebook and what they mean to the average user.  Before I start the discussion, a special thanks to Eva Galperin, a privacy expert.  We were fortunate to have her Skype in on Wednesday’s class and offer some excellent insights (some quite frightening) into privacy.  In this post, I’ll discuss some of the topics from the reading Facebook privacy settings: Who cares?, written by Danah Boyd and Eszter Hargittai and also our in-debth discussion with Eva.

The Boyd and Hargital article focuses on the history of privacy on Facebook, the different settings available, and the user experiences.  Facebook started out as an exclusive social networking site, only allowing students at the same University to view their peers.  Over the past few years, Facebook has expanded the network to make profiles available to “everyone” resulting in over 700 million users.  With the new evolution, Facebook introduced privacy settings, which allowed the users to control what is seen.  With these new settings, upgraded frequently, the default choices allow for the profile to have the most lenient privacy settings.  This results in users unknowingly sharing the majority of their information with everyone.  When the authors did a study, the found that the majority of users do not know their privacy settings.

To take it a step further, our guest lecturer provided even more detail and concern about the information users are putting online.  Although, we create our own profile and configure our own privacy settings, at the end of the day, Facebook controls the information.  Essentially, our information is owned by third parties, creating a potentially huge concern for users.  Even more concerning is that once the information is posted on the site, it is at their disposal, even if the individual “deletes” the posts.  The customer/user has become the product.  Because Facebook produces very few revenues from the users, they rely on their advertisers.  In turn, advertisers want to be able to target specific users to maximize their potential effects on users.  This combination results in the commoditization of the user, with our personal information being the most valuable aspect.  All in all, the readings and discussions were eye-opening, and it definitely raised my awareness of what happens to everything I put on a third party site.

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