Chances are that a majority of people you know are on Facebook. I signed in up in college on the day it was released to the University of Texas students; the site started off as something for Ivy League students only, but then trickled to all other colleges, then high schools, then the general public. It has ballooned into an international behemoth with more than 450 million users, according to CNN.com. While more members means you have more friends, family and colleagues to connect with online, it also means more people seeing your information, many of whom shouldn’t have access to that data. Facebook also developed applications and programs such as Facebook Connect, which share your information with outside parties.
It used to be easy to manage your privacy settings to prevent things from going public, but in the last few years, Facebook has made it harder and harder to control who sees what information. In one of the more recent updates, parts of your profile were set to be publicly viewed by default, so if you didn’t know to go in and change it, you were unknowingly broadcasting things like your party pictures to your boss. At one point I just gave up trying to figure it out and didn’t know if some of my information was publicly visible or not. CNN says the site currently has more than 170 privacy options; no wonder I was lost!
The site received major backlash after several major privacy changes (reductions); many users created and joined Facebook groups protesting the changes and left scathing comments on Facebook’s blog, and many news outlets and blogs spoke out against them. Facebook received enough heat to amend their terms and conditions. Unfortunately, things didn’t get much better; their privacy controls kept becoming more and more confusing, and people refused to stay quiet. According to CNN, on Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that his company has made many mistakes with user privacy. He also revealed that starting this week, they are (finally!) simplifying privacy controls. It will be rolled out to all users in the next few weeks and will let you easily block all information from with just one click. Just like it used to be in the beginning, you can easily select whether you want your data shared with just friends, with friends of friends or with everyone.
Why am I discussing this on a personal finance blog? Online privacy is an increasingly important and complicated issue as more and more users store their sensitive data online. Many of us now use online banking, pay all types of bills online and shop online, leaving traces of our private financial data everywhere we go. Most of it is completely safe, but we all have heard the countless stories of security breaches and hacks. Giving away too much public information on Facebook puts you at even greater a risk; if anyone can see your full name, full address, email address, and phone number, they’re already off to a great start to knowing too much about you. I wouldn’t put my address on my Facebook profile, even if my settings were for friends only!
What do you think? Will you feel better using Facebook now that its privacy settings will be simple again? Has your financial data ever been compromised online?