Facebook; on the value of personal information online

One of the things I love about my job as the E-Media Specialist for the Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland council is I get to help discover different, effective ways for staff, girls, volunteers, and parents to connect with each other and stay up-to-date with important and/or fun information. Facebook has been, and probably will continue for some time, to be an extremely popular and easy way to make and maintain those connections.

Unfortunately, even the good can have an unfortunate side.

If you use Facebook (or if you’re considering doing so), you should take a look at these two articles:

“Facebook’s High Pressure Tactics: Opt-in or Else” : http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebooks_high_pressure_tactics_opt-in_or_else.php

“How to Delete Facebook Applications (and Why You Should)” : http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/how_to_delete_facebook_applications_and_why_you_should.php

Facebook has slowly been loosening their standards on how user information gets shared. A year ago they made the default new profile info from private to public, they then made it so that not only is your profile information open to any of the Facebook applications (like the quizzes and games) but also the information of your friends, and then recently they turned on by default an “Instant Personalization” feature which shares your profile to external Web sites. (See: “How to Opt Out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization”  http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/how-opt-out-facebook-s-instant-personalization)

Now, as the first two articles describe, Facebook has made it so that all your profile info is connected to other FB pages and groups or else you can’t have references to those subjects in your profile, and they’ve expanded the amount of information third-party applications can have on you and how long they can have it.

What’s the bottom line in this cautionary tale of creeping personal information leakage? Should we abandon the social media ship? Well, the pros and cons have to be weighed on an individual basis. But what it comes down to, what it always has and always will come down to, is educate yourself on how your personal information is being used and consider carefully what information you put out on the ‘net. As one of the articles states: “In fact, it may be best if you just assume that everything on Facebook will be public from now on and act accordingly.” That’s good advice not just for Facebook, but any and all Internet use.

And we need to be good models for the youth. We need to show them, in practice as much as telling them in cautionary instruction, that personal information is a commodity: there are people who want it; will buy, sell and trade it; and exploit it if it profits them. Personal information is to be given out sparingly, carefully, and in an informed manner.

Unfortunately, our youth are getting very mixed messages about the value of their personal information. On the one hand we tell them (rightfully so) to be careful and miserly about their information, but on the other hand we’re living in an increasingly surveilled culture where we, and our kids, are watched by cameras, monitored online, scanned by detection devices, and asked left-and-right to give over more of our information at retail and even grocery stores.

One component of the solution must be that we model for our kids the proper way to value our personal information online. Be careful and judicious with your own information. Teach through your own online interactions that what you put online is about yourself is valuable enough to be protected, and what you do put online should never be presumed to be private.

I love the Internet, I love social media and all the positive potential it has. As the council’s E-Media Specialist, I love being able to use the skills and knowledge I have and continue to develop helping our girls and adults alike to use social media. Social media is a tool. It can be used for good, as we use it every day to promote and enhance the Girl Scout experience — and it can be used for ill. The proper response isn’t fear and avoidance, in my opinion, any more than one should fear and avoid a hammer, knowing it could build a house or smash a thumb. The proper response should be education and information.

Embracing social media isn’t for everyone, and you may never ever use Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or any of their cousins or descendants; but online social media is becoming increasingly an integrated part of modern life. It may not directly affect you, but I would bet you directly affect someone who does embrace it! Help pass the proper education along.

Thank you for reading.

Liam Watts

E-Media Specialist

Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland


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