Earlier this week, the inventor of Facebook Mark ‘I’m a yuppy billionaire’ Zuckerberg announced a new feature to that most brilliant site of sites: Facebook Places. This incredibly innovative and not just a little scary feature will tag each of your updates with your location. So, should you be out shopping for new shoes because, let’s face it, who can resist new shoes? And then you choose to update your Facebook status to something like "<insert your name here> is spoilt for choice with all this leather around" (because who also doesn’t enjoy setting up the odd potential for a joke in their status every now and then?) Facebook will update your status and add to the end of it your location: "The shoe store, Shoe town, Shoelandia". Or something like that anyhow.
This startling feature has opened yet again the can of worms that is the topic of our online privacy. Should things like this be allowed? How many people can access my details? Can cocaine smugglers in Ecuador see my favourite quotes and all those photos of me going to lick that person’s face at that other person’s house at that party?*
There are numerous panic mongering news pieces and forwards bouncing around all of our email inboxes which tell us that ALL OF OUR INFORMATION IS OUT THERE!!!!! and attempt to amplify the little nugget of fear already at home in our heads.
What I tend to do when my eye falls on such an email or article is to sigh deeply and press delete. I know my information is on the internet for people to see. I put it there for that purpose.
"But don’t you know that people can get your phone number and address from your Facebook?" People yell at me with a certain sense of urgency and an inward patronising sneer.
"Yes, actually, I did know people could do that. I put such information on Facebook for that express purpose. It’s not as if everybody on the planet can see it though is it? Sure, there are some feckless divvies who do leave all the back doors open for the world and his, or her, dog to come snooping around their personal details, but I happen to have a brain and it functions quite well and so I know that there are such things as Privacy Settings." I reply rather smugly. I’m always smug. Don’t worry, I’m taking pills for that. That and my narcissism.
So before you fall foul of an alarmist article or three, stop and think for a moment.
– Do I have any information on sites such as Facebook protected by the privacy settings provided?
– Is the information I’ve put on the internet stuff I wouldn’t mind people knowing?
– Are my bank details on display for anybody to see?
If the answers to those questions are yes, yes and no respectively then you’ll be fine.
I admit there are experienced hackers out there who can access your details but they’re just after your money and nobody can really stop them so don’t worry about that. They don’t want to see any incriminating photos, they just want to spend money on your credit card to buy AK-47s in order to take over a government or two.
*Before any of you get excited and go on an epic photo hunt, there are no photos of me licking somebody’s face at somebody’s house at a party. We were on a beach. And it wasn’t a party.
Watch this and tell me honestly that you don’t want one.