Facebook Profiles for Sale: Consumers Becoming the Product

This week in our Theory and Audience Analysis class, we have been discussing ethics and privacy, focusing on social networking sites, especially Facebook. This topic is very interesting and relevant as there are over 800 million users of Facebook. Of those 800 million people, few have read or understood the privacy settings of Facebook or other social networking sites. From our Skype session with Eva Galperin (@evacide) we learned that according to a study by dana boyd, 100% of people who claimed they understood the Facebook privacy settings were wrong. People do NOT understand the settings, but it is very important that we protect our information and ourselves.

It is hard to define what it means to be public or private since we lack the language, social norms, and structure to handle it as dana boyd mentions in Social Network Sites: Public, Private, or What? boyd uses the example of two girls; one who is concerned about close friends and the other who wants to speak to broader peers. The first girl would most likely have a private profile, while the second would leave her profile public in order to find others in her peer group. This helps us conclude that private technically means a profile that is only accessible to a person’s articulated list of ‘friends.’

Having a private profile, however, does not mean that third parties cannot access the content provided on Facebook. As Galperin mentioned, Facebook can take private data, compile a profile of a user, and sell it to advertisers. The consumers become the product. The way Facebook makes money is not from the amount of users, but from the advertisers who are buying information and then advertising back to the users. With each new layout alteration or update to Facebook, the privacy policy changes with more default settings that allow more sharing of data with third-parties.

The wordy and confusing privacy settings leave novice and even power users frustrated and without the knowledge to protect their information and themselves. Thankfully, Facebook is taking a step in the right direction with the elements of the new Timeline format. The content of the profile is supposed to respect the current privacy settings and can be easily altered and controlled if an errant post or embarrassing picture appears on your Timeline. There is also a “curation period” where you can see you Timeline five-days before others can. This can help build back trust of Facebook users who have felt used and taken advantaged of by Facebook.

Facebook requires users to use ‘real names’ opposed to pseudonyms. Jillian York in A Case for Pseudonyms, did a nice job answering my question about the disadvantages and advantages to a required ‘real name.’ Anonymity helps those concerned about threats to their lives or livelihoods, discrimination, or retribution feel less at risk. However, anonymity can make it easier for users to stalk or harass others. On the other hand, the use of ‘real names’ on Facebook, improve user behavior and create a more civil environment. Using a ‘real name’ holds users accountable for their actions.

From today’s Skype session with Eva Galperin and discussing Facebook’s privacy settings this week in class, the thought of deactivating my profile has flashed across my mind. But, who am I kidding? I will never deactivate my account as long as my friends, peers, and family are using Facebook. Facebook is a way for people to be social and connect. Plus, without a Facebook, what other form of cyberslacking would I use?

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