Facebook Privacy is a Balancing Act

Despite the headlines and hyperbole around Facebook information privacy issues--and the public exodus of notable online personalities in protest--the reality is that Facebook membership is actually still growing. Social networking and data privacy are, in many ways, directly at odds and the solution comes down to user awareness and choice.

The latest changes to Facebook policies, and the ways information is shared and distributed by it shouldn't come as any huge surprise. Facebook has had policies in place pretty much from its inception that seem to overtly infringe on personal privacy. I initially avoided Facebook after a fellow information security professional pointed out that Facebook policy essentially claimed ownership of virtually anything published on the site to be used, shared, or distributed to meet Facebook's needs.

Eventually, though, I accepted the risk in order to take advantage of the benefits of Facebook. I wanted to share with family, friends, and old high school acquaintances and I determined that "privacy" is subjective and that the responsibility is ultimately mine to find a comfortable balance between being social and being private.

A few days ago I wrote an article stressing that other Facebook users need to accept responsibility in a similar way, and highlighting the importance of user education and awareness. Many of the comments and e-mails I received in response to that article focused not on the topic of the post, but on my use of the infamous McDonald's coffee lawsuit to illustrate a point.

In retrospect, it does seem that a more appropriate example of misplaced responsibility would be the scenario of someone taking an over-the-counter sleeping aid and then driving heavy machinery, or any of the other cases of a void of common sense on the part of the user leading to some sort of legal or financial burden being placed on the manufacturer.

As a side note, I personally believe that McDonald's should have proactively offered to cover medical expenses in this case, but I can also understand the Pandora's Box of frivolous litigation that would open up for it--customers knocking on McDonald's door seeking compensation when they bite their tongue while eating a Big Mac. Still, there are aspects of the McDonald's case that apply to the Facebook privacy issue.

McDonald's served its coffee very hot, leading to the plaintiff in that case receiving third degree burns after spilling the coffee on her lap. McDonald's had received earlier warnings regarding the temperature of the coffee, so apparently the burden was on McDonald's to change the temperature of its coffee or implement some additional safety controls to prevent injury from it.

Fair enough. However, was it the victim's first cup of McDonald's coffee ever? Was it her first cup of coffee ever? Because the proper temperature for coffee is between 155 and 185 degrees Fahrenheit, and third degree burns can result from liquids at 180 degrees.

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