Facebook users have been warned for years to be careful about what they post on Facebook. Would potential employers make employment decisions based on your Facebook status postings? Could your profile or photo pages hurt your college or scholarship applications?
The concerns continue mount and even morph.
In January Facebook began allowing access to third parties of Facebook user's phone numbers and other profile information, with user's permission, of course. Apparently not all user's believed they had given permission and this campaign came to a quick halt with Facebook acknowledging that they got "useful feedback that they could make people more clearly aware of when they are granting access to this data."
Facebook has played the "our bad" game more than once with Facebook users' privacy concerns. Still, Facebook's VP for Public Policy Elliot Schrage, who participated in a Q & A session through the New York Times tells Facebook users "If you're not comfortable sharing don't." Many users and privacy advocates still believe Facebook makes it so easy to share, too hard to notice what you're agreeing to and too easy for outsiders to access your Facebook information.
Here's part of what Elliot Schrage had to say in response to questions submitted to the New York Times blog:
"It's clear that despite our efforts, we are not doing a good enough job communicating the changes that we're making. Even worse, our extensive efforts to provide users greater control over what and how they share appear to be too confusing for some of our more than 400 million users. That's not acceptable or sustainable. But it's certainly fixable. You're pointing out things we need to fix."
abycats, New York asked a question that many Facebook users would "like" an answer to.
"Why not simply set everything up for opt-in rather than opt-out? Facebook seems to assume that users generally want all the details of their private lives made public."
What was Schrage's answer?
Everything is opt-in on Facebook. Participating in the service is a choice. We want people to continue to choose Facebook every day. Adding information - uploading photos or posting status updates or "like" a Page - are also all opt-in. Please don't share if you're not comfortable. That said, we certainly will continue to work to improve the ease and access of controls to make more people more comfortable. Your assumption about our assumption is simply incorrect. We don't believe that. We're happy to make the record on that clear."
Do you feel better after hearing this answer?
Before you answer, consider this letter to the U.S. House of Representatives in which Facebook acknowledges a plan to go ahead with the another installment of "allowing" Facebook information to be made available to third parties. Facebook still argues that it is ultimately up to the user to "allow" this but Facebook users have heard this song and dance before.
What if you've left Facebook? Is your information safe?
Well, it depends. Schrage also answered a question about the ways to leave Facebook of which there are two. One is to delete your account. The other is to deactivate your account, which saves all of your information in case you want to easily return in the future. In this case, Facebook will do you a "favor" and save all of your information. If you've left but simply deactivated your account, then you need to continue to follow the news about Facebook future plans to share information with a third party because they could still affect you.
With Tax Day just around the corner and debt collections at an all time high, Michelle Dunn, an debt collection and credit experts expresses concerns about the status updates people share on Facebook:
"Those pictures on your profile or status updates about a new purchase, a raise or your income tax return provide creditors evidence about your ability to pay your debts. For one or two hours a week, you can obtain information that in the past you might have needed to hire a skip tracer to find."
Do these new Facebook plans get you boiling?
Helen A.S. Popkin, a tech writer from MSNBC warns, "Facebook is the slowly warming pot of water and we, my friends, are the frog. By the time we noticed our peeling skin, another hunk of our privacy is long gone."
Popkin add, "This is how Facebook rolls: Strip away a huge chunk of your privacy, cry 'Our bad!' and roll it back when users and/or privacy advocates complain. Then wait awhile, and do whatever it is Facebook planned to do anyway. Voila! Boiled frog."
In a response to a request for information on Facebook's future plans by Yahoo News, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes emailed the following statement:
"Despite some rumors, there's no way for other websites to access a user's address or phone number from Facebook. For people that may find this option useful in the future, we're considering ways to let them share this information (for example to use an online shopping site without always having to re-type their address). People will always be in control of what Facebook information they share with apps and websites."
So, will you be more cautious about what you're sharing on Facebook now? Will you be taking a second look at what's on your profile page and status updates? And do you wonder who else will?
Lisa Carey is a contributing author for Identity Theft Secrets: prevention and protection. You can get tips on Identity theft protection, software, and monitoring your credit as well as learn more about the secrets used by identity thieves at the Identity Theft Secrets blog.