Last week, I wrote an opinion piece for NBCLatino entitled Don’t trust Facebook with your children in response to Facebook’s announcement that they are considering allowing children younger than 13 to join the site. In that post, I discussed four reasons why you would want to be wary of allowing your children under 13 to join Facebook. Due to space limitations, I didn’t include a fifth that I wanted to elaborate on here:
Privacy: Time and time again, Facebook has been notorious for tricking users into sharing more of their personal information. And yes, I mean tricking and no, I’m not being overly dramatic here as I’ll point out below. Since the Internet has a short memory, let’s briefly review some of these issues:
- Beacon: In 2007, Facebook launched a system named Beacon that allowed non-Facebook websites to include a script that would send user information back to Facebook. A user didn’t have to be logged in to Facebook for their information to be collected from a third-party site, nor were the users even informed it was happening. Imagine making a purchase on Zappo’s and then having it automatically posted to your Facebook wall. Facebook shut down the service in 2009 just before they settled a class action lawsuit over Beacon.
- News feed: In 2007, Facebook introduced the News feed and Mini feed that published all of a user’s Facebook activity without allowing users to opt-out. Because of user outcry, Facebook implemented privacy controls for the feeds. Then in 2009, they removed those privacy controls. Again after user outcry, they added more privacy controls and “simplified” their privacy settings. Even though they have been “simplified,” I don’t believe that Facebook privacy controls are “simple” and easy to understand.
- Inability to delete accounts: This one didn’t affect many users, only those trying to delete their accounts so most people don’t remember it. Even when users deactivated their accounts, Facebook kept copies of their information indefinitely. To this day, you have to submit a request to completely delete your account. If you merely deactivate your account, Facebook still keeps all of your information indefinitely.
Because of all this, one can infer that Facebook has had a deliberate disregard for privacy of its users. Now imagine similar privacy bait-and-switches with children – who are less equipped to understand what is happening and to protect themselves from having their information shared with more people than they intended. And while in my original piece I wrote about how I’m not as concerned about a stranger taking advantage of a child on Facebook as I am about other things, such privacy breeches certainly increase the chances that a person with ill intentions will use the information for their own benefit at the expense of the child.
For these reasons, I don’t trust that Facebook has my best interest in mind and I certainly don’t trust that they’ll have the best interest of children under 13 in mind… and neither should you.
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