Facebook & privacy: the seemingly eternal debate

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The question of privacy – or lack thereof – seems to be a preoccupation only for those who are, erm, of a certain age (I’m learning to be politically correct). I have many younger friends who are in their early to mid-teens, and it always surprises me how they seem to put all aspects and details of their life on Facebook – be it in the form of detailed information forms, photo albums of every single thing they do (including their new purchases) or their frequently updated Facebook status’.

At this point, I’d like to offer an apology to all my teenage friends, although you have to admit I did have this conversation with you in one form or another in the past year!

I came across a very interesting article on the New York Times about this very subject, and some of the reflections offered by its author, Randall Stross, are worth reading.

From the New York Times: When everyone’s a friend, is anything private?

By Randall Stross; published on March 7th 2009

FACEBOOK has a chief privacy officer, but I doubt that the position will exist 10 years from now. That’s not because Facebook is hell-bent on stripping away privacy protections, but because the popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites has promoted the sharing of all things personal, dissolving the line that separates the private from the public.

As the scope of sharing personal information expands from a few friends to many sundry individuals grouped together under the Facebook label of “friends,” disclosure becomes the norm and privacy becomes a quaint anachronism.

Facebook’s younger members — high school or college students, and recent graduates who came of age as Facebook got its start on campuses — appear comfortable with sharing just about anything. It’s the older members — those who could join only after it opened membership in 2006 to workplace networks, then to anyone — who are adjusting to a new value system that prizes self-expression over reticence.

Facebook says it is the world’s largest social network, with 175 million members. But in the United States, most members are still relatively young; Facebook offers advertisers a target of 54.4 million members of all ages. But if an advertiser wants to narrow its target audience to those 25 or older, the number drops to 28.8 million. Narrow it to those 30 or older, and Facebook has 20.3 million to offer.

Many over-30 graybeards have yet to sign up, so Facebook has a chance for astonishing growth. Each week, a million new members are added in the United States and five million globally; the 30-and-older group is its fastest-growing demographic.

Members are becoming more gregarious, too. In December, the average number of “friends” per member, worldwide, was 100. It has now jumped to 120, according to a company spokesman. Among members, a Law of Amiable Inclusiveness seems to be revealing itself: over time, many are deciding that the easiest path is to routinely accept “friend requests,” completing a sequence begun when one member seeks to designate another as a Facebook friend.

In other words, they are defining “friend” simply as any Facebook member who communicates a wish to be one.

Read the rest of this article here.

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