Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

Summary: In an age where invisibility is tantamount to a career death sentence, a large network is an important claim. But at what cost?

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Today was a day in which you couldn't turn a corner without running into the news of the privacy issue with Facebook chat. According to a report from TechCrunch Europe, a major security flaw allowed people to view the live chats of their friends. Indeed, Facebook chat was offline much of the morning, as the company allegedly was addressing the issue.

Due to instilled security paranoia anyway, I've never been one to use Facebook chat. However, I have and continue to be a huge proponent of leveraging Facebook for networking and business. But how far does that go? And should these networking and business benefits come at the expense of sacrificing one's own privacy?

My ZDNet colleague Jason Perlow wrote a thorough piece the other day called "Contemplating Facebook Hara-Kiri." The article cataloged his challenges with Facebook, from locking down his profile to dealing with a compromised account. Perlow described in detail how he has blocked most applications, has slowly shaved friends off of his page and is going to redirect new friend requests from folks he doesn't know well to his fan page. He's even put all of this in a handy dandy advanced privacy guide.

This is something I'm struggling with as well. For someone who works in security, I was one of the worst offenders. For a long time I would add almost anyone on Facebook. Oh, you like my blog? Awesome! Wow, you follow me on Twitter? Join the fun! Seriously, you have a large sum of money you need transmitted to a bank in another country? We're golden. OK, maybe not the last one, but who knows what kind of scam I might've gotten myself into by doing this. Thankfully, this stopped over the last couple of years, but the folks I'd already added in the Facebook fold were still there.

I created a privacy group that wouldn't allow people to see certain things -- photo albums, my wall, etc. I'd already had it set to where no one could see my email addresses or phone number, so that wasn't a concern. I went through my friends list and added all of these "strangers" into this list. I gave the appearance that we were connected, but we weren't really that connected.

For some reason, I couldn't just cut the cord. I struggled with these people. I created a dedicated "Favorite Friends" feed so I didn't miss content from the folks I really knew. I worked around these issues. Even though many of them would invite me to events that weren't even in my area or send me the most annoying applications that I would have to then block, I didn't want to "unfriend" them.

I had to think about the "why." The main reason: I was afraid to come across as mean. I respect Perlow's approach as it works for him, but at the same time I've seen others handle it not so graciously. I've seen status messages with things like "I am going to unfriend you soon so become a fan of me." How pompous is that? I can't even bear the idea of creating a "Jennifer Leggio" or "Mediaphyter" page and would likely only do one if I reached 5,000 friends and hit overflow. I'm not a big enough personality to require my own page, let alone that kind of recruitment tactic. Yet, I sat there looking at all of these strangers -- many of them "friend collectors" as my friend Cathy Brooks rightly calls them -- and pictures of their babies and expressions of their religious affiliations, and I just felt out of control. Held hostage. By what? My own ego.

This might sound pathetic. OK, it should sound pathetic. It is pathetic. Even still, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am not the only one who struggles with these types of issues. I've had this discussion with many friends, both inside and outside of social media circles. There are even blog posts about the importance of integrating one's world. Yet, those posts never tell you what to do in the struggle between ego and safety. In an age where invisibility is tantamount to a career death sentence, a large network is an important claim. But at what cost?

Then the Facebook chat privacy issue exploded. Then Perlow, who I pay a lot of attention to, went on a rampage about locking down his profile. Even more so, I knew that I needed to practice what I preach. I've written countless articles about social networking and security and the importance of not engaging with people you don't trust, yet I wasn't fully doing it. Using the walled garden approach is not enough.

So, I went full throttle early this morning and cut a significant amount of "friends." As I was doing it, I started to get panicky. "What if I need to reach out to these people someday? What if they stop reading my blog?" How weird and selfish. Visibility is important, but weren't we taught as children that it's better to be a genuine friend than a fake one?

In retrospect, I'm embarrassed that I let my drive for visibility get in the way of my good common sense. It's not as if I don't know better. I could've just deleted friends and gone quietly on my way. But again, I know that this is a common struggle with people trying to build their blog presence or their careers. It's just not worth it, folks. Not with such ambiguous privacy policies, not with so many aggressive scammers and cyber criminals just waiting to fool you into friending them, and not with the future of online privacy being such an unknown entity.

At least I was smart enough to leave most of the applications alone a long time ago.

Topics: Security, Collaboration, Social Enterprise

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18 comments
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  • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

    That's why Facebook is for Friends, and Twitter is for, well, all the rest. ;)
    lemiffe
    • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

      @lemiffe Yes, the Twitter piece is next on my hit list. Not sure how / if I want to address that. :)
      Jennifer Leggio
      • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

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        just-do-it
  • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

    You did what you did with a reason. There's no formula for getting this stuff perfectly right (unless you want to live under an online rock, which is also fine).

    Ultimately, it's your life, your time and your profile. Platforms like Facebook should give you value, not concerns. If your actions give you more of the former and fewer of the latter, then more power to you.

    Glad we're still friends :)
    kennethlim
    • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

      @kennethlim Thanks Kenneth, greatly appreciate the support.
      Jennifer Leggio
  • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

    After reading this, coincidentally, I was looking for the Like button. ;)

    I am with you on this one. We can be as public as we want on other networks. Thanks for the post.
    MelissaHourigan
    • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

      @MelissaHourigan Ha, I've found myself doing that on multiple sites. Heck, even on internal company documents. I wonder how long it'll be before Facebook reaches that level? Heaven help us.
      Jennifer Leggio
  • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

    I'm fascinated by these large companies that act like they can get away with any type of security & privacy violation. You expect this sort of behavior from companies like http://www.dirtyphonebook.com that seemingly don't care one iota about their users' privacy. You shouldn't grow to expect this type of stuff from large companies like Facebook with ALL of the stuff they've been doing lately with the open-graph and message privacy leaks and Google with some of their Google Buzz shenanigans...

    Well I guess when there's money to be made they don't care anymore.....
    RedE
    • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

      @RedE I think that Facebook is trying to find the right balance, but just missing the mark. They are trying to find a model that makes money and if they give everyone an option to opt out, they lose their revenue driver. I personally think that if they give people more options, then they would be pleasantly surprised with the return. But I think fear is a big factor in uncharted territory.
      Jennifer Leggio
      • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

        @Jennifer Leggio

        Great article and perfect for a discussion a group i'm involved with is having internally! thanks for a great summary of the gut feelings I've been trying to put into words.
        myrtle1893@...
  • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

    Perfect timing. Ironically just posted a rant (on Facebook) about the latest intrusions from share your interest pop-ups to app blasts to universally visible chats. I'm now going to go study Jason Perlow's privcy guide and lock things down as best I can. Thanks for the great post, Jen.
    jenshanks
    • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

      @jenshanks Awesome, glad this was helpful
      Jennifer Leggio
  • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

    The of this post is perfect, and applies perfectly to Zuckerberg. His ego and desire to control the internet has turned a possibly useful service into an absolute nightmare of exploitation.

    http://geekcomforts.com/2010/04/mark-zuckerberg-the-new-facebook-of-evil/
    HansGrueber
    • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

      @HansGrueber That's a great post, Hans. Thanks for sharing that. Not sure if you saw that but in Perlow's post he said he was "zuckerpunched." I thought that was pretty clever.
      Jennifer Leggio
  • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

    Well said. And you should totally start your own fan page! (or I guess they're called "community" pages now?) :-)
    jkositz
    • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

      @jkositz Ha! Yeah, but I think it'll be a while before the "fan" nomenclature wears off. At least or me! It just feels strange to me. I think part of me isn't ready to bridge that level of unprivacy. Right now, I see myself as blogger and rabblerouser. I don't see myself as "public figure" or whatever the page would say. And honestly, I like to keep it real. :)
      Jennifer Leggio
  • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

    Some people deserve what they get from Facebook and Twitter. I can't believe these people who actually post things like "I am leaving for a BBQ right now," or even worse, "I am leaving for Jamaica tonight. Back in two weeks."

    Good for you. I really hope that you get home and your house isn't cleaned out...
    Muttz
  • RE: Facebook: When ego gets in the way of privacy and security

    Using Facebook in the workplace can be treacherous to the safety of the server's security. Tat said, check this out: http://bit.ly/d2NZRp. Let me know what you think!
    kellybriefworld