Navigating Facebook’s privacy policies

When it comes to the world’s biggest social network, how safe is your information?

Internet security experts are wary of Facebook’s new Timeline concept, where users can more freely scroll back months or years at a time on a profile page, opening up a user’s entire history on Facebook. Dylan Hewlett

Nathan Wild got a Facebook profile a year ago to keep in touch with distant friends.

He decided to delete his account when he joined the “Quit Facebook” movement, but when he visited a friend’s Facebook page later on, he found out that his account was still on Facebook.

“You can’t delete anything on Facebook. When you delete your account, it goes dormant, but when you log on Facebook, it still shows that you exist,” he said.

“Those people can see you on their lists, and people started asking me, ‘Oh, why don’t you respond to my messages?’ And I say ‘Because I shouldn’t have an account anymore,’” Wild said.

Facebook’s data use policy states you can either deactivate or delete an account.

Deactivating just puts the account “on hold” in case you want to reactivate it later, while deleting it will permanently eliminate your account, though backups and caches might still exist for up to 90 days.

However, with Facebook’s new template, Timeline, expected to roll out to all user profiles in the coming weeks, comes new privacy and data use policies.

With Timeline’s magazine-like layout, users can freely scroll back in history - months or years at a time - on a profile page, opening up a user’s entire history on Facebook.

However, the privacy settings are automatically set to “public,” meaning some people will be posting things they thought were private.

“I think it’s a bit like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Collin Franche, a freelance security expert.

“Either way, it’s a large system where people are putting tons of information on it, people can still find information on you.”

As of Wednesday, Feb. 1, Facebook is now a publicly traded company, with its stock offering predicted to be $100 billion.

With Facebook, it’s very easy to gather names and information without having to actually hack Facebook.

Ron Bowes, president, SkullSpace

According to their IPO application, 85 per cent of Facebook revenue comes from advertising. This is in relation to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) investigation, which ordered Facebook to uphold its privacy policies, and allow it to be audited by the FTC to make sure they keep with those policies.

Facebook has been no stranger to controversy.

Jennifer Stoddart, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, raised concerns over Facebook’s “Like” button, as well as the confusing privacy policy that Facebook used to have.

Facebook has been accused from everything from selling information to advertisers to being involved in a government conspiracy.

Ron Bowes, president of SkullSpace, an organization for computer programmers and hackers, believes that while Facebook certainly has problems, people shouldn’t put anything on Facebook they don’t want found out.

“People need to be aware of Facebook, or whatever they put online. They shouldn’t be making the assumption that their information is safe,” he said. “Facebook accounts are stolen all the time through keyloggers and other programs.”

Bowes is more concerned about how Facebook can be used to gather information on people without their knowledge.

“With Facebook, it’s very easy to gather names and information without having to actually hack Facebook,” he said. “I’m afraid of governments using Facebook instead of getting a subpoena to wire-tap someone.”

Facebook accounts have been stolen in the past, most notably by hacker attacks by groups such as LulzSec and Team Poison.

Lulzsec has also stolen account information from PayPal and Sony’s PlayStation network, forcing the network to be taken down for almost a month last year.

Read more about managing your online identity in the culture section of this week’s issue. Turn to page 17 for the story.

Published in Volume 66, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 8, 2012)

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