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Burriss on the Media: Facebook and Privacy


By Larry Burriss, PhD


Murfreesboro, TN – There is an old joke about how married couples share things, that goes, "What's mine is yours and what's yours is yours." Unfortunately, that kind of thinking seems to be running rampant on Internet social network and tracking sites. If you don't believe, it, send an e-mail to almost any Internet site that pops up on your computer, and ask them to send you a copy of the file they have on you. The answer will, in all likelihood, be a resounding "no."

A few years ago Facebook began telling other subscribers about purchases you had made. And they did it without telling anyone, except, of course, advertisers, who are mightily interested in learning who your friends are so they could be targeted. When angry users threatened a lawsuit, the service was dropped.

Now, Facebook has done it again, and has quietly switched on a so-called "feature" that uses facial recognition software to identify people in photographs, and allow other users to search for other photographs by name.
In other words, someone could post a picture with you in it, identify you, and then everyone else could search for other photographs of you. And apparently no one needs your permission.

Currently the application has an "opt out" feature, but I have to wonder why do so many privacy features have to be "opted out" of, rather than "opted in"? The answer, of course, is that most people would probably not opt in, and the social networking sites would lose a valuable source of information.

Now a number of privacy groups have filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, and Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts is urging the FTC to investigate Facebook for possible privacy and consumer violations.

It's one thing when people use social networking sites and voluntarily surrender part, or all, of their privacy. But it's something completely different when your privacy is covertly infringed by people you think are your friends.