How safe is Facebook?

By Jeevendra Bandara Ranasinghe

The popular socialising website, Facebook has come a long way since it was launched in 2004 by Mark Zukerberg, a Harvard University student. According to Compete.com rankings, a leading traffic analysis website, Facebook is the most active socializing website at the moment.

However, Facebook is gaining lots of negative attention in the blogsphere. Tech blogs are exploding with articles criticizing the recent changes to the privacy policy. Some blogs are even urging users to delete Facebook accounts.

The issues of concern vary from bugs which expose private chats of users to having malicious ads directing to phony antivirus software. In mid April, a Russian hacker posted an advertisement on an underground forum offering 1.5 million hacked Facebook accounts for sale for a price of $15 - $25 per 1000 accounts! After launching an investigation, the hacker has gone into hiding and has not been heard of since.

With this storm of attention brewing the officials of the social-networking platform, are busy trying to make the site more attractive and has resulted in introducing a set of new user controls which earned the wrath of the groups who are concerned with the privacy of users. Among them, the European Union’s Justice and Home Affairs’ Data Protection division, who has sent a letter to Facebook expressing its discontent over the social network’s slew of recent privacy changes. This unpleasant poke echoes the general sentiment of the new changes.

This general distaste has gone to the length of declaring a “Quit Facebook Day” planned for May 31. Adding more problems on the platter, Electronic Privacy Information Center and 14 other consumer protection groups lodged a formal complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission in US. The groups take issue with Facebook’s privacy policies and accuse the site of unfair and deceptive trade practices that “violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations.”

People who like to attain a certain degree of privacy should be prepared to spend a considerable time going through the settings. They need to tweak some 50 settings with more than 170 options to keep the information as private as possible! And Facebook officials say that it is to offer users precise control of their information. And with the ever increasing settings, websites’ privacy policy has gained length in astounding pace.Unless the user clearly knows what he’s doing, his need to attain privacy won’t be successful. Certain information will still be shared.

One of the new features on the site is that it allows Facebook partners to access the ‘Likes and interests’ section of a profile. Initially this facility was provided only to three companies. These are Yelp, Pandora and Docs.com, the Microsoft’s document sharing website. Named ‘Instant personalization’, this feature shares information with partner sites to customize the visit to the sites. For example Pandora will grab your musical preferences from your profile and suggest music that you may prefer.

But does this mean its alright to let someone miles away use information without prior consent. When this feature was introduced, FB turned it on by default. Facebook officials slammed the escalated privacy concern to be entirely media created. According to them, only a few people dislike the generous sharing policies.

People who are too busy playing Farmville or too egocentric to think that their personal lives are utterly fascinating to be shared, are not concerned about the present situation. Actually they’ll be pleased. But most level headed people are thinking twice about their FB accounts. In a recent poll conducted by the UK based developer and vendor of security software and hardware, Sophos, 30% of the respondents have opined that they’re considering cancelling the accounts, while another 30% said that quitting is highly possible.

And 16% have already quit. However, this poll cannot be considered as hard fact since it doesn’t project the view of all Facebook users. We can safely say that ardent Farmville players are definitely not included while Fortune magazine believes that FB has gained 10 million users since it changed its policies.

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