Friday, 4 June 2010

Facebook Privacy

I have been writing columns in newspapers for over 10 years and in that time two things have not changed. Firstly my hair has not grown back and secondly people are still surprised when scandals appear. In the last month we have seen both Lord Triesman and Sarah Ferguson caught saying things they really shouldn’t, in Fergies case blaming it on a “lapse of judgement”. My lapses of judgement normally involve a hangover the next day, not asking for half a million pounds but there you go. Both cases got me thinking about privacy, how we view it, and in most cases don’t.

Ten years ago I was writing about how you should be careful about what you put in an email as they can easily be sent round not just the office, but in a few famous cases, the world. That now seems obvious and since then technology has moved on and so has our use of it. First came mobile phones and illicit text messages and then social media. Suddenly various elements of the media found it easy to get their hands on dubious pictures of celebrities as they have been dumb enough to put them on their profile pages. Now we have MP’s being warned about what they write in their Twitter accounts especially when written from the bath. I would hope that was not just a lecture about letting people know that but also the dangers of mixing electricity and water.

Social media now is not just a fad it is mainstream. Facebook has over half a billion registered users world wide. The largest played game in the world is not Call of Duty but the Facebook farm game which says a lot for the human race. In March in the UK Facebook generated over 30% of all the ad impressions delivered that’s 20.9 billion ad impressions.

So that’s a lot of people sharing everything from what they are doing, to photos of themselves doing it, to even reviews of what they like. You don’t of course just share that with your friends but also people like me if you have not changed your privacy settings. Facebook recently launched Facebook connect. If a Facebook user clicks on a Facebook connect button on a site to say they like it, the brand owner then can access that person’s info. I was at a conference two weeks ago where I was shown how in two clicks to tell me from those who had clicked how I could find out how many single female cat owners liked my brand, where they lived and how to contact them. That is unless they change their privacy settings. As Facebooks privacy settings are currently longer than the US constitution you can see why people have not bothered but that is about to change.

Facebook is under pressure to simplify its settings as users want to have more privacy. A telling fact is that a group of 4 students in America tried to raise $10k to build a more privacy centric social media site and raised $200k in a week to do so. As a final point I asked some of the younger members of my team about how they view their online privacy and the response was “that’s just the way it is”. It looks like I will be writing the same column in another 10 years time.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant


  1. Hi!
    I completely agree with you. Having a Facebook account of my own, I know the risks of sharing too much and not checking who can actually see it. When people read articles about somebody who paid the price for not being careful enough they simply think that it can't happen to them. Some of my friends even posted their credit card pin number via Facebook.
    We will see where this will take us :)