Facebook still making enemies, one user at a time

Consumer Reports News: September 30, 2010 05:43 PM

Jesse Eisenberg plays the role of Mark Zucker-
berg, the founder of Facebook, in the movie
"The Social Network."
Photo: Sony

"You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies."

That's the tag line for "The Social Network," a movie opening tonight about the start-up of Facebook.

You also don't get to 500 million friends without a few privacy violations, we might add. So how does Facebook stack up regarding privacy and security on the eve of the film's opening?

You've still got to crawl through a web of settings to get a grip on your privacy controls on Facebook, although the company did make things a bit easier back in May with its new privacy scheme. And it remains up to you to opt out of apps completely if you don't want your name, profile picture, gender, networks and user ID shared with friends using apps.

Facebook's Instant Personalization feature last spring caught the attention of several U.S. senators, who objected to the way Facebook made its users opt out of the service, which automatically shared their personal Facebook information with participating sites Yelp and Pandora. Facebook is taking a new approach with the latest addition to Instant Personalization, Rotten Tomatoes, according to the Center for Democracy & Technology. The Instant Personalization/Rotten Tomatoes pairing, unlike the other partnerships in the program, makes it clear to users that what they're doing on Rotten Tomatoes is linked to their Facebook account. But there are also protections in place to keep users from accidentally publishing something they didn't mean to share on Facebook.

A strong password is essential to protecting your privacy on Facebook and other web sites. But we have found that Facebook continues to allow unacceptably weak passwords on its site.

Facebook's privacy policy could also be strengthened. For example, thanks to a recent court ruling in Suffolk County, New York, a user's posts on Facebook can be subpoenaed as evidence in a court case. According to the judge, once you create a social-networking account, you're consenting to the sharing of your private information with others. Of course, the judge also pointed out, that's the whole purpose of a social network. The federal government is also looking to open up social networks to wiretapping, potentially compromising the security of consumers.

Not every privacy problem is within Facebook's control. In some instances, it's the user who has to take precautions. You can still lose your job by posting inappropriate comments about your boss or employer on your Facebook page. You also need to be careful about revealing too much information about where you are and where you're going. And the new Places feature, which posts where you are using geolocation technology, could also lead to trouble if not used with care.

Security can also be a problem on Facebook. Criminals are finding new ways to exploit Facebook users. Take, for example, a warning recently issued by Auburn University. Students were told to beware of predators creating fake Facebook accounts and attempting to contact students.

For more on how to protect your privacy on Facebook, take a look at our 7 things to stop doing now on Facebook.

—Donna Tapellini

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