Social networking software

Advice for Facebook: Just Ask Permission (Duh!)

That's the way privacy is supposed to work in the real world. It's selective by definition. The only things that are truly, purely private are the things only you know. Everything else ends up getting shared with someone -- whether it's your doctor, your lawyer, your spouse, or your 3,245 closest friends on Facebook. But that doesn't make that information less private.

Take the information you should never post on Facebook (or elsewhere) unless you want to be used as an ATM by identity thieves: Your Social Security Number, your date of birth, and your mother's maiden name. Everyone outside of LifeLock's Todd Davis would agree that these are stupid things to share online. Right?

However, if you want to apply for a job, pay your taxes, get health insurance, see your doctor, rent an apartment, or qualify for a credit card, you have to release this information. Does it make this information any less private? No. It's still your private information. You've just selected who gets to see it. (Though in this example, the Federal government and the credit bureaus made that selection for you.)

Your medical information is private -- but not to your doctor. You may have birthmarks or tattoos that only a select few people know about -- unless you're a stripper. Your yearly income is no secret to your boss or Uncle Sam, but it's unlikely your coworkers or neighbors know how much you make. All of that information is public to some and private to everyone else.

That is precisely how Facebook started out. You got to choose who saw your stuff. But it's become increasingly harder to limit your exposure as Facebook makes more and more "private" things public. That's why I (and others) have called it a "bait and switch."

That's a problem, but it can be fixed. And the fix starts when Zuckerberg et al stop assuming that just because people post something to their Facebook profiles means they're OK with sharing it with the world.

So anyone who says you've given up your privacy rights because you shared something intended only for your Facebook BFFs is an idiot. And, please, feel free to quote me on that. You have my permission.

Author Dan Tynan loves to receive email from fans, but be warned that he might quote you unless you tell him not to. (He is, after all, an award-winning journalist.) Catch his snarky side at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.

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