The Privacy Illusion

Everyone who wanted to got to see Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg‘s private photos on the online social networking site thanks to a bug in the site’s software. But, bugs, glitches and hacks aside, the privacy settings on Facebook, and indeed other socoal networks are so complicated, obfuscated and downright frustrating for the majority of users that it really should not come as a surprise to discover that what was previously personal and shared only with a select few might some day appear at the top of the Google search results pages…


Scott McNealy, chairman of computer giant Sun MicroSystems has already told us that “Privacy is dead” and that we should “get over it”. Facebook and its ilk are trying to make that state of affairs a reality and perhaps in an era when anyone can zoom in on a satellite view of you nude sunbathing in your own backyard or flick through someone else’s vacation photos, we could perhaps say that privacy really no longer exists. Of course, satellites and intruders aside, the old maxim still holds true: If you don’t want it on the Internet, don’t put it on the Internet. Obvious. Job done.

But, some observers and advocates of stronger privacy laws will argue that privacy should concern of each and every Internet user, especially those who use social networking sites. In a recent paper, legal expert Jan André Blackburn-Cabrera highlights the fact that social networking sites are by virtue of their virtuality “social”. However, there is a different between social and full-frontal online exposure. Blackburn-Cabrera has looked closely at Facebook’s privacy policies and settings and found countless deficiencies; as have others. At the time of writing, the company is rehashing those very settings to make more of them opt-in rather than opt-out, although who knows whether we should be in or out at any given time?

The most telling statement from Facebook has to be from its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities in which it says: “We do not guarantee that Facebook will be safe or secure”. Like I say, if you don’t want it on the net, don’t put it there. It’s no wonder that Zuckerberg is for ever apologising to his users…

Blackburn-Cabrera suggests that given the illusion of privacy and the complexity of those rights and responsibilities that Facebook [and presumably all other sites that gather private and personal information] needs to take on more responsibility for the privacy of their users, just like users of these services need to take on more responsibility to protect their own privacy and security. The idea of locking down is pointless if one wants to get the most out of an online social network, then again, using such a site really isn’t about exposing every part of you to the whole world from that backyward satellite shot to your vacation photos.

Research Blogging IconJan André Blackburn-Cabrera (2011). The war on Facebook: privacy on social networks Int. J. Liability and Scientific Enquiry, 4 (4), 281-304

This article has been reproduced from Sciencetext technology website. Copyright David Bradley.

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About David Bradley Science Writer

David Bradley has worked in science communication for more than twenty years. After reading chemistry at university, he worked and travelled in the USA, did a stint in a QA/QC lab and then took on a role as a technical editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry. Then, following an extended trip to Australia, he returned and began contributing as a freelance to the likes of New Scientist and various trade magazines. He has been growing his portfolio and and has constructed the Sciencebase Science News and the Sciencetext technology website. He also runs the SciScoop Science Forum which is open to guest contributors on scientific topics.
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