Unintended Risks of Using Facebook

Pay Attention to What Information, and Whose Information, You Are Sharing with Whom!

March 8, 2012

Be a good steward of your privacy and the privacy of your friends and family members on Facebook. Learn how applications are mining and analyzing our Facebook behavior to gain new insights about millions of Facebook users. Make sure that you are not using applications that require the sharing of your friends’ profile information without their consent. And, to protect yourself, make sure you have unchecked all the boxes in your Facebook Account Privacy settings for “How people bring your info into apps they use.”


On March 1, 2012, Google changed its privacy policy in order to aggregate the information it was already collecting about us into a single information- and interaction-rich picture of who we are and what we do online. Google’s users’ only choice: opt out of using Google’s free services in order to avoid having our behavior tracked.

Facebook is also evolving its platform to automatically capture more and more information about us in ways that are really useful to marketers. In fact, very soon, Facebook will be switching all of us to its new Timeline user interface. Timeline turns each of our Facebook posting histories into a marketers’ treasure trove of chronologically-organized life events.

There’s one key difference between what customers expect from Google and what we expect from Facebook. From Facebook, we don’t expect anonymity. The whole point of Facebook is to tell the world what we care about and what we’re doing.

But, as with Google, it’s not always obvious to most of us Facebook users what information is being gathered, by whom, and for what purposes. As Facebook evolves its platform to become an even more intimate part of our lives, there are important safeguards that we should take. In particular, we need to be very clear about what information we are enabling applications and web sites that are integrated with Facebook to capture about our lives and about the lives of everyone we’re connected to.

There are now powerful analytic applications that are designed to mine and analyze the data from Facebook users. While these applications must get explicit permission from their Facebook users to access their data, what many people don’t realize is that these applications often access the data of their friends too by taking advantage of the fact that Facebook lets applications request permission to use our friends’ profile information without their knowledge.

Make Sure to Review Your Facebook Privacy Settings

Make Sure to Review Your Facebook Privacy Settings
(Click on image to enlarge.)

© 2012 Facebook

Basic Facebook Controls are found under your Account Settings and Privacy Settings. You should control who gets to see what you post as well as who is allowed to post on your profile or wall or to tag photos with your name.


Privacy vs. Anonymity: If Your Behavior Is Tracked, Are You Really Anonymous?

We can all complain legitimately about having our privacy violated when Google knows a huge amount about each one of us, including every search we’ve done and every video we’ve watched and every email we’ve sent and every phone call we’ve made. We feel like we’re under surveillance when Google not only “knows” all of that information about each one of us, but is also willing to provide that information to others.

Google claims that it keeps our information “anonymous,” but how anonymous can it be when it’s linked to your email address, your first and last name, your mobile phone number, your age, your gender, and, no doubt, your mailing address as well as your IP address and browser cookies. Anyone who can hack into Google’s systems, and/or a legal authority who can gain access with or without a warrant, or a company that is given permission because you enabled one app to talk to another app, may be able to connect the dots between your identity and your online behavior. Most of us consider that kind of “big brother“ surveillance spooky and uncomfortable.

If, after March 1, 2012, you continue to use Google when logged in with a Google ID (which is the only way you get to share, like, or add YouTube videos to your favorites or your playlist), to use consumer Gmail, to enable cookies in your browser, to use an Android phone, or to use Google+, you have traded your anonymity for convenience. You have not only made it easier for advertisers to tailor more relevant offers to you, but you are allowing Google to keep track of who you are and what you’re doing.1

The real problem with Google’s current privacy policy is that it legitimizes digital surveillance. Google’s privacy policy simply notifies users of Google’s services that, if we use these services, we are allowing ourselves to be tracked. It does not allow us to use most of Google’s services with tracking turned off. (You can presumably do a Google search with tracking “turned off,” but I wouldn’t count on it. I believe that what you are actually turning off is not the tracking, per se, but the supposed use of that tracking to target ads to you.) If you want to search anonymously, you would be better off switching to a search tool that promises not to track or log your searches, like DuckDuckGo.

You Are Not Anonymous on Facebook

Of course, there’s nothing anonymous about you on Facebook, nor do we expect anonymity from Facebook. The whole point of Facebook is for you to share details of your life with others. You have some controls about what information you choose to share with whom (controls which most people don’t bother to set carefully). But the fact remains, when you choose to post about yourselves or your friends or your family on Facebook, you are “going public” with that information.

Sharing on Facebook Is Seductive

When we use Facebook to post our “Status,” to share photos or videos with friends and family, to praise a book or a movie we liked, to rave about a good meal, we “know” that we’re going public with these parts of our lives. But it’s easy to get carried away with the very human and gratifying pursuit of strutting our stuff—talking about ourselves and our lives. We also ...(more)


(Download the PDF to read the entire article.)


1) For more information about the impact of Google’s March 1, 2012 Privacy Policy change, see "How Does Google's Privacy Policy Affect You? It’s Time to Pay Attention to How Google Is Tracking Your Online Behavior," by Patricia Seybold, February 23, 2012.

Sign in to download the full article


Be the first one to comment.

You must be a member to comment. Sign in or create a free account.
All Members Strategies Technologies