Facebook’s imminent IPO is cause to revisit the issue of online privacy because this will be a monumental event. For many of the 750 million-plus account holders of Facebook, the IPO may happen quietly. But the online privacy arena will be changed forever.
In the days before Facebook, when identity theft for adults and children was not such a common occurrence, people did not willingly share their personal and confidential information. Of course, job applications may have included a line requesting a social security number, but without a job offer pending, there was no reason to provide this data. Also, doctors often requested driver’s license numbers on new patient forms, but in the era pre-HIPAA and without a justifiable reason, people left that line empty too.
Fast forward to the present, what I call the “Facebook era.” People seem to have lost all rational thought when it comes to their confidential information. They are too eager to give away their most private and confidential data. Many people willingly share birthdates (including day, month, and year), birthplace, address (including street number, city, state, zip code, and country), email address, employer name and address, and family names and ages.
Many don’t stop there. They share where they’re shopping, where they’re dining, what events they’re attending – all in real-time. Consider how much information is being provided to wannabe identity thieves as well as burglars – since they know when people aren’t home.
This dramatic shift away from shielding and protecting one’s confidential data is due, in large part, to Facebook and “the Facebook era.” And while we’ve all met new friends and re-connected with distant family members, the reality is that thieves are still out there devising innovative ways to steal our identities and confidential data.
The positive impact of the Facebook IPO brings the issue of online privacy into the mainstream. Here are some questions we should be asking and discussing:
- How can national legislators protect our online privacy?
- If our confidential data is compromised, how can the government step in and assist?
- Should the government be required to step in and assist?
- How can we protect our data when we use Facebook and share data?
- Can we, as Facebook users, expect support and protection from Facebook?
- How far can company social media policies go in policing employees, or what is the reach of company social media policies? For example, employee comments about the workplace, employee comments about other employees, and confidentiality of company secrets.
- How will Facebook use all of our data?
A recent tweet on Twitter hit the nail on the head: “Facebook…is like a time-travel machine for stalking.” If so, what can we do?
Choice 1: Only post generic and boring data on Facebook. Unrealistic in today’s “Facebook era.”
Choice 2: Delete photos and personal data from our Facebook accounts, unfriend all friends, unlike all pages, and then let the accounts hibernate with no further activity. Unrealistic in today’s “Facebook era.”
Choice 3: Be extremely careful about what to post. Since this is the most realistic option, ask yourself before each post, “Will I be comfortable if my grandmother or boss sees this content or photo?” If yes, go ahead and post. But if the answer is no, don’t post. Simple.
Chime in with your thoughts on the next chapter of the “Facebook era.”