Openbook fuels Facebook privacy issues

Facebook‘s ‘Posts by everyone’ feature has been taken up by a new site, Openbook, and shows how much people are prepared to (over) share. The feeds are full of people stating how they cheated in exams and took drugs. Not exactly a job reference.
One could argue that this isn’t Facebook’s fault, after all users are both responsible for what they post and can manage their own privacy settings. The ‘over-sharers’, as I call them, aren’t just on FB, Twitter and FourSquare have the same types in their own way. Why do people do it? I suspect there are two reasons: firstly, a few people just don’t realise and secondly, the rest are showing off to their mates and the rest of the world. You could argue that the second category deserve everything they get, but I don’t always feel that is the case.
Last week a man in the UK was arrested, had his computer equipment seized and was fined for a Tweet threatening to do serious damage to an airport after his flight had been canceled yet again (volcano rage). His Tweet may have been ill advised, but I can understand someone seeing red and just loosing it. It was pretty obvious that he didn’t actually mean what he said, but in this paranoid society we live in you have to take care.
I believe that social media sites have a far greater responsibility to take care of their members privacy than they do. It goes beyond offering settings options. These options should default to the most secure. Certain posts should be filtered … if Openbook can pick on people admitting to cheat in their exams, how hard would it be to have a message along the lines of ‘do you really want to post this update?’, before they click the button?
However Facebook have a difficult path to tread. If they are to realise value from their site, then they need to offer advertisers more and more options for targeting customers. From that perspective, the ‘post to everyone’ feature is advertising gold. The flip side, however, is that as privacy concerns increase, more users will leave the social networking site.
From a mobile perspective the issue is significant. We have already seen security issues with FourSqaure, and with FB adding location into it’s settings these issues will significantly grow.

Facebook privacy concerns may scupper their advertising

From an advertising perspective Facebook is a dream. With the data it has no it’s members it can offer a very accurate behaivoural targetting of it’s ads. And Facebook has made a great success of it. Whilst it was struggling to make money last year, in 2010 their advertising revenue has sored. Comscore measured Facebook as offering over 16% of all ad impressions online.
However, to the Facebook member, behavioural targetting, and more importantly, privacy issues are not a dream, but actually a nightmare. Many of the recent changes in profile status etc are aimed at improving FBs appeal to advertisers. This blog here, expresses some of those concerns. We may see a situation where FB is loosing as many members as it gains with it’s changes to their privacy and user settings. And I’m not making it up. Look at the huge traffic surge on wikiHow on how to delete a Facebook account.
Long term, if I was Facebook I’d be worried.

Why I’m a Facebook refusenik

‘You’re telling me you’re not on Facebook!!??’ exclaimed Chris. It’s not the first time that someone had been outraged by my lack of a Facebook account. However, it was particularly damning as Chris Abraham is a social media guru and I’m supposed to be a digital media professional (maybe even expert). In fact in my mobile presentation I talk about the future of mobile social media, including .. ahem … Facebook.

So why am I not on Facebook? A few reasons …

‘I have real friends’.
This was my rather sarcastic reply when the FB boom first started around four years ago. The fact is that I find online relationships a bit pointless. I don’t want to get all deep and meaningful about my relationship with my real life friends, but when it comes down to it, I don’t think I could pop over for a coffee with online friends. Essentially a pure online friend is merely a connection. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure you can have an interesting chat with them, share ideas, photos, videos and so on. But ultimately it is just a connection. Frankly I have enough other connections both in real life and online. I don’t want to manage yet more through Facebook.

‘It’s great because people you haven’t seen since school get in touch with you’.

And therein lies the problem. I don’t want people from school getting in touch with me. Frankly if my old school mates were interested in keeping in touch, they would have done so before. It’s over 20 years since I left school and at some point during those two decades if there had been any common interest then we would have communicated. So, no, I don’t want random people looking me up thank you very much.

‘The internet does not forget’.

Whatever you put on the internet will be there for ever. Some people either forget that fact or,as I have seen with many teenagers, they don’t care. Or at least don’t care for now. We all know that stupid drunken behaviour as a student may rebound on you later in life. There are enough examples of both employment and relationships being compromised through ill advised FB content. And with Facebook it’s not just what you put out there, but also your friends and especially the photos they tag up. Does that mean I am embarrassed about what I put on the internet? Well no, in fact as I work for myself and am in a steady relationship it doesn’t worry me in the least. However, I think the issue of privacy is a major one and I don’t see why my life should be available to all on the internet.

Now, the last two points can be easily countered by managing privacy settings in FB. Fair enough, but I really don’t want to spend my life managing my own reputation by de-tagging photos of me. And if my privacy settings are so high that hardly anyone can contact me, then I might as well just give them my email address or phone number. Which is exactly what I do!

There is another element around privacy that also stops me joining Facebook. It’s the advertising side of it. The value of Facebook is it’s members. It’s not simply the ability to shove adverts in front of them, but it’s the knowledge about those members that allows them to target that advertising. And with the addition of location information that targeting will become even more acute. Given that I avoid store loyalty cards as I don’t want them to know about my purchasing habits, I don’t want to go and do essentially the same thing by joining Facebook.

‘Facebook is cliquey’.

In truth it’s this last point that ultimately puts me off the whole FB thing. For starters even the name suggests that it’s all based around photos and how we look. Then there are the cliques themselves ‘Did you see what I wrote on his wall’ kind of thing, the collection of friends (they’re not friends, they’re contacts), tagging of photos and so on. Am I making the cliqueness up? Well, no, apart form witnessing it for myself, there are numerous incidents of cyber-bulling around FB. Of course that can happen with any social media, but Facebook is currently the preferred tool, and personally I’d rather not be part of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against social media. I blog (in case you hadn’t noticed), I use Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Largely I use if for business. Personally I’d prefer to email, text or just meet up with people. I can see how other people benefit from Facebook. One friend finds it essential to arrange a night out. My family (some of whom live abroad) use it to share photos. They aren’t the only ones. FB has more picture sharing that Flickr and any other site for that matter. So whilst there is a point to Facebook, it’s not for everyone, and no one should feel pressure to be on it.

45% of US Employers use online social networking to vet candidates

A recent study has shown that 45% of employers check social networking sites on potential candidates. Scary? Yes. Surprising? No.45% of US Employers use online social networking to vet candidates

Employers have been ‘Googling’ their candidates for many years, and most people are aware of this. The problem is that as social networking has boomed, the information about potential candidates has increased. According to the study, things like references to drug use, or other unfavourable habits has caused them to reject candidates who would have been acceptable otherwise.

So, whilst you’re showing off to your mates on Facebook, that information may damage your future reputation. Of course, there is a benefit to all this social network prying. Anyone with half a brain can use the sites to fluff up their potential employability … lots of references to your great charity work, important books or education can help engineer a highly employable profile.