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The revolution that we know as Facebook was founded in 2004. Since this time the networking site's popularity has continued to grow into a 300 million active user database (This represents individuals who have used the website more than once within 30 days).
In early 2008, I set up an account on Facebook at the request of many of my friends. Many of them had switched over from using MySpace as their main social networking site to using Facebook instead. This meant that if I still wanted to stay in contact with them in a virtual environment, I would have to follow their trends and set up an account on Facebook too. This could be seen as a domino effect in a social environment.
I find Facebook an extremely useful website; it enables me to communicate with friends, family and co-workers. I have found many lost friends from my early school years through Facebook, without the website, I probably would not have contacted them again.
Due to the younger demographic audience that Facebook appeals to, many businesses have taken the opportunity to advertise by using Facebook as a catalyst for their products. It is not only businesses that have turned to Facebook for promotional purposes, many music groups have set up Facebook accounts to advertise and promote themselves. I have set up a Facebook page for my band which allows us to share various kinds of information such as news, videos, song uploads, photographs and to set up ‘Events'. These ‘Events' allow us to publish up-coming gigs onto a virtual calendar and allows us to invite our fans and friends. This is a great feature as it spreads the news about any up-coming gigs in viral virtual world and as a consequence, more people hear about the up-coming gigs.
With the vast amount of Facebook users worldwide, this surely highlights the questions regarding security of the website and how secure individual's personal data is. Security has always been a paramount concern for Facebook. Due to the increased public awareness of ID theft, security breaches and online fraud, Facebook are constantly looking for new ways to make their website and the data it holds as secure as possible. (Facebook Factsheet 2009)
An example of the sites privacy being breached happened in 2005. Two students from MIT, were able to download over 70,000 Facebook profiles from four schools (MIT, New York University, the University of Oklahoma and Harvard University). This was achieved by using an automated shell script to gather all the information.
In May 2009, many Facebook users worldwide suffered from a data phishing operation launched by Russian hackers. This led to thousands of accounts being hijacked and personal information being displayed.
When we submit data online, do we question the safety of it? Are the people who we submit the data to taking all the right precautions to ensure that our data is kept secure?
These questions led me to a journal called ‘Facebook's Privacy Trainwreck' (Danah Boyd 2008) to read as secondary source research into the matter. This journal focuses on privacy concerns following the September 2006 launch of the ‘News Feed' feature on Facebook.
One of the main points that the journal focuses on is that when ‘News Feed' was launched in 2006, many Facebook users were very unhappy and felt that their privacy had been invaded. Boyd (2008 p.13) says ‘Upon logging in, users faced a start page that listed every act undertaken by their friends within the system'. ‘None of the information displayed through this feature was previously private per se, but by aggregating this information and displaying it in reverse chronological order, News Feeds made the material far more accessible and visible'. The reasons given by Boyd show why many Facebook users were unhappy with the changes. It meant that all of their actions, from uploading photographs to writing on another person's profile was reported to all of their ‘friends' via the news feed feature.
People generally have a small group of friends that would be interested with the daily happenings of each others lives, they would visit friends page's and check their recent activities and status posts; the information on these profiles was displayed for all to see, but it was not broadcast to people who really didn't want to know. The behaviour of the website and the way it addressed people's recent activities all changed in September 2006. The result of this change meant Facebook had to devise new privacy tools and options so that users could choose what information on their profile was shared to all their friends via the News Feed feature.
Writing about these new privacy tools, Boyd (2008 p.16) states ‘When the default is hyper-public, individuals are not simply able to choose what they wish to expose - they have to choose what they wish to hide'.
Why did Facebook choose to take everyone's information and display it in the news feed? The only way people could limit what was seen by all their friends was to change the news feed privacy options to not reveal certain information. I think Facebook should have structured their plan in totally the opposite way; by asking the user what information they would like displayed in the news feed, and as a consequence not to have this information displayed until these options had been addressed.
Even though this journal does not address all the key questions I mentioned above, it certainly provokes more questions regarding public privacy within Facebook.
By connecting my primary source and secondary source, it has helped me to understand the roles of both types of sources. I understand that secondary sources from academic journals can be trusted and are well structured; they are invaluable assets to academic research, and can pose questions on the subject that have not been addressed yet.
I have learnt there is a lot more be aware of regarding privacy on social networking sites. As the social networking scene grows, the questions that are raised about security and privacy grow with it.
Boyd, Danah (2008) ‘Facebook's Privacy Trainwreck', in ‘Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies', Vol 14(1): 13-20
Facebook Fact Sheet 2009, accessed 14th Oct 2009 <http://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?factsheet>