Saturday, August 11, 2007

Okay so...

There's been so much discussion (as I'm sure all of you who are reading this already know) about Internet security, user privacy, and identity protection. Many sites claim to have created a safe environment for digital/social networking, however...these people seem a bit mired in some virtual realm that ignores the real hazards of the Internet for its users.
To elaborate, I'm going to start with a pretty well known example, Facebook. Now, I have a Facebook account, with about eighty or so friends, all of whom I know in person, but who don't necessarily know each other. But nonetheless we all exist in this same space and interact, even if it is unintentional. See, the thing is, even if you think you're only visible to your friends, you're also visible to your friends friends, and your friends friends friends and so on. These networks that normally would not interact in the physical world are now sitting beside each other and able to interact with one another. So, say you upload a photo of yourself on Facebook and you "tag" one of your friends in that photo. Now that you have "tagged" them in that photo, their friends can see that photo with them in it (because technically, it's their photo too..) and so now you have opened that photo up to be viewed and commented on by people you don't know and have possibly never seen before. Sure, there are ways to protect yourself from these things, but I don't know how to do it, I just know they exist.
So yes, we could say Facebook is much safer than other social networking sites, because it has the capability to be safe, but their downfall is that they do not elaborate on those safety options so that the user knows EXACTLY what that particular option protects them from. So, in a practical sense, Facebook isn't any safer (in fact, it may be LESS safe which I will explain a little later on) than any of its competitors, because they fail to do the fundamental step of informing their users of all the practical applications of these safety measures. Thus, the users neglect to implement ANY of these security options because they don't know how to use them, what they do, and how they're going to effect their use of the site.
But, this is not their only downfall. They have also created an inherent spying tool. They built in the capability for many people in many different social networks to track the actions of any of their friends. You get a moment-to-moment update of all of your friends actions on the site, wheather one of your friends added someone you know, or if they "posted" a comment on someone else's page, and what that "post" said. You can see what changes they made to their profile, you can see what events their planning on going to and WHERE those events are and when (hello stalkers, if you want to know what any one's up to...just look on your homepage! Creepy to say the least). And all of this information is put right in a little feed in the middle of your homepage.
Now, we have a problem. Because what if you (I'm thinking basic, teenage problems here, but you can see what this can turn into, I hope) make plans with one friend (we'll call this person Friend A), but then at the last minute you get invited to something much better with someone else (Friend B) who doesn't know Friend A, and so you make up a convenient little lie to get yourself out of your prior commitment and head out with Friend B. Okay, so that's all well and good, (because in the physical world, Friend A and Friend B wouldn't interact so you'd be "safe") but then, say Friend B posts a comment the next day on your Facebook talking about how great said event was. Now Friend A goes and checks their Facebook Homepage and sees the update on their feed saying you got a comment from Friend B, and how seems to be about an event that occurred last night. So, you click on it and go look at your page and discover OH SNAP! you lied. Thus begins a messy little fight and you end up on bad terms with Friend A because your Facebook suddenly created a relationship between all your social networks and made YOU transparent, oops.
So of course, there probably is a way to disable this function, but I do not know how and so therefore if a user such as myself can't figure that out, I think that shows us that there just might be a problem. This is a function that is almost completely unique to Facebook, many other networking sites have a feed that is directly controlled by the user (say, bulletin postings) , so that way the user can still maintain a distance between all of their networks and control what is seen about them. This makes the site much safer because it is all user controlled, unlike Facebook. Myspace lets you code your own page if you so choose and hide whatever information on your page (say comments, age, location, certain photos, schools) from others; a function that Facebook as of yet does not have, and if it does, it certainly isn't easy or well known by its users.
This has caused me to christen Facebook "Stalkerbook", because everything I do is documented somewhere on a feed saved by a server and accessable by anyone who is friended by me. This is a problem because weather you want to admit it or not, what happens in the digital world directly effects your life in the physical world because it is a document of all your actions and opinions and is accessible to pretty much anyone.