Facebook Privacy Concerns: Safety for Parents and Children – Is Online Activity Ever "Private"? Part Two

This is the 2nd installment of a series I’m doing called “Is Online Activity Ever ‘Private’?” You can read parts one and three here:
Part One – Suspended, Fired, Arrested for Facebook and Twitter Posts
Part Three – How to Avoid Getting Fired or Arrested for Your Facebook Posts

I recently wrote about some of the many examples of people getting suspended, fired, and arrested for what they’ve posted on Facebook, Twitter, and even YouTube.

You can find examples all over the internet. People are posting pictures, tweets, and status updates in the perceived privacy and anonymity of the online world that get them in all sorts of trouble in the real world.

Common sense should prevail but, even with common sense, people overestimate the level of privacy on Facebook, Twitter, and (once upon a time) Myspace.

What’s to stop the same child predators from creating fake Facebook profiles? In a way, since Facebook is all about knowing everything (a key point) about the person you are “Facebooking”, it offers a slight sense of security for anyone exercising a little caution.

For example, since you are encouraged to share you work, school, hometown, current city, family, and even current location info with everyone on Facebook, you may be more hesitant about who you add as a friend. If someone unrecognizable tries to add you, it may prompt you to second-guess it if you don’t recognize any info about them.

However, if you openly share everything with everyone, then you’re openly sharing it with anyone who is logged into Facebook (which doesn’t make it any more private than finding people via Google search).

An Obvious Problem with Children’s Safety

Children aren’t always as discerning as adults about posting things online, let alone “friending” people. I say “aren’t always” because some nowadays actually are, be it out of their own intelligence or the point sternly driven home by parents or other adults.

But kids and teens don’t always think before they act and that includes what they do on Facebook and Twitter.

The inability to browse profiles without looking in may feel more secure, but it gives a child predator an open invitation to merely create a profile, freely browse a large number of Facebook profiles, and then select a child to schmooze.

Facebook Makes it Easy

That leads to another problem with Facebook – names.

Remember back in the day, when any child or teen (or even adult) was strongly advised against using their real names in chat rooms and with people that they talked to online that they’d never met?

That’s been the common sense advice for the past decade, since chat rooms and instant messenging (IM) became popular. I remember back in Windows 95 days when my friend had AOL and we’d go in to a chat room as her username and give out our middle names as our “real” names.

If you ever used Windows 95, or even Windows 98, when AOL was still the top (or at least a main) ISP, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Privacy was huge when the internet was really just making headway with the general public.

Spring forward to today – when real names are actually being recommended in use as usernames even in Twitter and Facebook.

Facebook Requires Real Info in their TOS

Facebook could even ban you if they catch you not using your real name. (How they figure out if you aren’t using your real name is questionable!) And unfortunately, Facebook isn’t exactly known for keeping information private.

Keep in mind that it isn’t just your real name that Facebook wants. Granted, you don’t have to provide Facebook with an endless supply of your personal information, but many people do.

Take, for instance, Facebook Places. First someone gets your real name, now they get your real and real-time location. Facebook Places allows you to “check in” – and worse, even check your friends in wherever you’re going.

You may not disclose your location on Facebook Places, but you could be with people broadcasting it for you.

Facebook Places can be fun – and frightening. It may be handy to know where your friends are, and let people know where you are, but do you really want everyone to know?

Facebook Places, Great for Predators of All Kinds

If you think Facebook Places is a great tool for burglars, you’re absolutely right!

A burglary ring in New Hampshire targeted 50 homes and it was as simple as waiting for them to leave home. How much easier could it get?

Criminals would usually have to stake out a house, watching the occupants to estimate the normal times they’d be gone, see which neighbors might get in the way, etc. But why bother when you can just take a look at Facebook Places?

They find that you’re family’s planning to spend the day at Six Flags? Plenty of time!

What Could Happen?

If you’re sitting there thinking, “It won’t happen to me,” or “I’m usually pretty careful,” or “My children know better,” think of this commonplace type of scenario:

You’ve set up a Facebook page. 

You have a 14 year old daughter who also just set up a Facebook page. 

She has to use her real name, as do you. She does a funny face, takes a picture, and uploads it to her Facebook profile as her default photo. 

You take a nice photo of yourself with her and upload it to your own Facebook profile because it’s a great picture of the two of you. 

She’s just a child and has only ever lived in one residence, so she updates her information to show that she is located in a small town in Colorado, her hometown also. You’ve got the same. 

You both list your birth dates. You add each other as a Facebook “friend”, then tag her as your daughter. She Facebook tags you back as her mother/father. 

You update your Facebook profile with where you work. She updates her Facebook profile with her school. You each update the About Me section of your Facebook info with some of your interests. 

You’re planning to take your child to the mall. You post a status update about clothes shopping for school. She posts a status update about how she’s about to go get new clothes today. 

You and her both log off the computer and you sign-in from your smartphone. You check-in using Facebook Places. You tag her as being with you to show all your other family and friends they can find you at the mall. 

In the above scenario, anyone that had access to your child’s Facebook profile would know exactly who she was and where to find her.

Even without the use of Facebook Places, strangers could know her real name along with a photo of her and what school she went to.

If your child has a rare name and provides personal info on Facebook, they could be asking for trouble.

Maybe in a huge city or with an extremely common name that wouldn’t be a problem. John Smith in New York City would probably still be pretty difficult to find. But rarer names (or even rare spellings of common names) such as Maeghan Witte or Victor McQuillen, or in a small town or city, could be cake to find.

If your child has a rare name and lives in a small town – they’re probably the only one. Say this is the case, and your child adds her “likes”. All a predator has to do is act like a student at her school and start talking about one of those topics.

Yes, being a child predator with a Facebook profile violates Facebook’s Terms of Service but do you really think a child predator cares about that at that point?

Facebook Worse than MySpace?

Kids (especially) like to “friend” people they don’t know whatsoever in order to boast a large number of friends on their profile.

That wasn’t necessarily as big of an issue on MySpace if you used an alias and didn’t provide your real information. With MySpace as the star attraction, parents were advised to make sure kids didn’t provide their personal info. But Facebook requires it.

If nothing else, you still risk let people know who you are, you are also opening up everyone to know your opinions about everything.

If you or even your child post the wrong thing, it could lead to trouble in school, trouble at work, or even trouble with the law.

Facebook privacy only exists when you are proactive and use common sense.

Are you a parent on Facebook? Do you have a child on Facebook? Are you comfortable with your children being on Facebook or do they make you worry? What sort of restrictions do you impose to ensure your child’s safety?

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Posted on June 28, 2011, in Life, Parenting, Social Networking, Tech and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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