Privacy and Social Networks

This is something that’s been bothering me for awhile, and that I continue to struggle with. How do I maintain my real life social connections and get rid of data mining services like Facebook?

I have a handful of friends whose correspondance with me is primarily through Facebook. I can’t help but wonder if I would never hear from them if I wasn’t on there. I’m even scared to admit to myself what I would do without the constant status update stream.

What makes Facebook so evil that I want to get away is simple. Facebook cleverly gets you to willingly put your demographic information on their site. Then they encourage you to connect with friends and family. Then there’s pages to become a fan of, groups to join, and before long, the data they have simply amassed includes info on where you’ve lived, what company you keep, what you like, where you shop, and they compile this and sell it to the highest bidder.

Consider this: they also know what it takes to get you to compulsively play games. This data also has value.

I can easily find information on just about anyone I meet these days with a search of Google and Facebook. Cobbling this info together, plus some other public database searches, and I’ve got a good bio on them. I do these searches out if curiosity, and don’t use the information for personal or professional gain. Even with some information obscured, Facebook leaves a bunch of information that helps missing pieces fall into place.

My best advice to myself is to drop Facebook now, and don’t look back. I want a better answer than that. I want to have my connectivity with my anonymity.

Will I lose real friends by losing Facebook? That’s the real question.

7 thoughts on “Privacy and Social Networks

  1. Can’t you just not provide the information you don’t want to be public?

    I don’t really understand what the problem is with marketers knowing this stuff; what’s the worst that will happen? They’ll use demographics to show you commercials for only the stuff you’re most likely to want? Doesn’t sound so bad.

    But yeah, you should be able to strip your facebook profile bare, and still use it for communication, right?

    1. I think what I am most bothered by are the sites that also use that information to sell to people who want that information. I agree there is some caveat emptor here, however, I don’t think most people realize where their info is going and who is using it. I think technology advances faster than the social understanding if its reality (and gravity). I’m desiring some weird ground that I know may be unreasonable.

  2. I agree some standardization of privacy rules would be good. Maybe a law, even.

    Are you talking about selling like your actual identifying information, contact information, address, email, that kind of stuff? I didn’t think that was legal, but if it is, that’s really lame. But if it’s demographic stuff not tied to me personally, like google talks about all the time, I’m pretty fine with it.

  3. Eric, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Not just demographic information. Where there was just once information culled from public records searches, they’re now including information from social networking sites, including demographic information (on one of the sites (can’t remember off-hand) I found information like, “Jane X. is in her 30’s, lives at (this address), votes Republican, likes to shop, isn’t interested in politics. She bought her home in 1998. Her common usernames are, etc.” It’s just creepy.

  4. Do they even agree to stop selling your info if you DO delete your account? I mean, do they delete it, or just disable it, and if the latter, do they agree to stop selling it, and even if they agree to stop selling it for now, what’s to stop them from changing their minds in the future? Scared now.

  5. You know, if enough people got really mad about this, we could all not just have our accounts disabled-but-still-vulnerable-to-being-mined-for-info. We could instead CHANGE our info. Democrats could claim to be apolitical or libertarian. Baptists could say they were buddhists. I could dump my friends list in favor of random people I could find by playing Farmville. We could make up a zillion fake accounts with a zillion fake addresses, with no real recourse, because we don’t care if we lose our accounts. We could fight back and screw up their data. If enough people got mad, we could make their data incorrect and irrelevant, and some stalker ex-boyfriend would wind up looking for me in Tennessee instead of Denver, thinking I was into country music and liked to shop! :p

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