Monday, May 24, 2010

How I got sued by Facebook

I read this article How I got sued by Facebook and thought it was interesting as it showed the Facebook information a person was able to gather using fairly straight forward data gathering techniques.

In this case the person appears to be a decent person, but it begs the question, "what are those who are up to nefarious activities doing with the data?"

Recently I showed my wife that if you know a person's Facebook profile number you can search Google using the term Facebook and their number and you'll see what Google has gathered. I think that is something people should do as an exercise. It shows their data is not just internal to Facebook. It shows how other companies and individuals have access to their data.

The problem is when you do the search often your picture is displayed and so are the names and pictures of 8 of your friends. I don't think most people would no that is happening. Did your friends give you permission to display their photos when your name is searched?

There a nearly 500 million users of Facebook. Each will have dozens and many hundreds of connections. Given the hypothetical six degrees of freedom, with little data mining effort it may be fairly easy to find a contact to enable an introduction to another person. That doesn't feel terribly safe to me.

I also showed my wife another person's profile. I said their interests are public. How easy would it be for a person to pretend to be interested in something just to get to know someone once they have prior knowledge of their interests. It would certainly be a good ice breaker. This of course has been going on well before the internet, but the internet makes things simpler.

I recently heard of a story of one person who met someone at a nightspot. They gave no details to them but by the next day the person had tried to friend them.

I don't know whether this was true or not, but I read a while ago that who you are connected to online may affect whether you can get a loan. The theory went that if you connected to people who are a credit risk you may be considered a credit risk. If your circle is well off people then you may be considered a good credit risk. I've also heard of people in America not getting work because of their online activities.

With approximately 500 million people worldwide using Facebook, reportedly 25% of online users using Facebook, that means those who have access to the data can effectively map and determine the relationships of a quarter of the online population. That is a huge responsibility.

All I can suggest is people take care. Keep in mind you are giving your information to another organisation. Their aim is to make money off your information. You don't know what they or others are doing with your information. You don't even know who "they" are or could be.

- Kelvin Eldridge

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