Facebook has just recently launched their safety page to complement the safety center they unveiled in April. This was welcomed news for parents with teens that use facebook and for users in general. They provide a good amount of safety educational information for members and specifically, parents, teachers and teens. They have also launched a global Safety Advisory Board consisting of a group of five major Internet safety organizations from Europe and North America. The members include Childnet International, The Family Online Safety Institute, Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely and WiredSafety.
This is a great step for the world’s largest social networking site but how much do users, especially teens realize what information is public and what can be kept private? The default settings for facebook are public which means if you do not go into your account settings and change this option the information you share will be available to the public. While some users do not mind making certain information public a good portion of them felt their privacy was invaded recently when Ron Bowes of Skullsecurity.org compiled public data on about 100 million facebook users, including user ID’s, names, URLs and other information and then released the statistics in a nicely formatted 2.8 GB torrent file from his website. The file can be downloaded by anyone with a peer to peer file sharing program.
While Mr. Bowles was accused by many of hacking facebook what he did was legal and he was just compiling publicly available information using a scraping program to gather the data and then make it available to anyone from his website. The question now is how can online predators or strangers use this information to their advantage? Can this information be used to profile a facebook user? How many young teens on facebook had thought about this possibility when making their information public?
This is why it is very important to practice sound Internet safety rules, keep personal information private and do not share it online. News stories announce websites being hacked almost every week. Public and private data being exposed and the best way to keep personal information from being compromised is not to reveal it in the first place. If this seems to extreme at least make facebook information private. To remove public information from facebook and its search results open the privacy settings page and then click on “View Settings” under the “Basic Directory Information” header. Then change the “Search for me on Facebook” to “friends” and information will only be visible to people on your friends list.
Teens, parents or anyone using Facebook should be asking the question “Am I comfortable with the information I am sharing and placing online?” Users must be aware of the conversations and information they are posting to other members. This public information can help an Internet stalker create a profile or could be used for identity theft. By taking the time to become aware of the potential use of public information on the Internet a more informed decision can be made before posting.