Facebook Privacy Debate a Passionate One

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Facebook, the wildly popular online social networking service, and the home where you eat, sleep, and raise your family don't provide the same level of privacy -- and that's not unreasonable.

Debate has flared up again between advocates of greater privacy on Facebook and people who believe that as long as you are careful what you post and you have nothing to hide, you don't have to worry about who sees what you are writing.

Employers who ask job applicants for the passwords they use to log in to Facebook are going overboard. Such a practice is being condemned, and rightfully so. It is especially egregious because the applicant's friends and acquaintances on Facebook, who are not a party to the job search, would have their privacy compromised as well.

But while privacy is important in online social settings, standing up for personal responsibility doesn't mean you are against online privacy.

If I wanted to stay in my house forever -- never to come out again -- I could, and my privacy would be intact. And I could do whatever I want inside my house. That's my territory. I control what it looks like, how it functions and what I do inside it.

Facebook is entirely different. Mark Zuckerberg and his buddies in Menlo Park, California, call all the shots. They get to decide what the environment looks like in my Facebook world. They create the arena in which I chat with my friends, play with apps and like websites, companies and causes. They monitor and track everything I do inside their world -- and they make a lot of money because of the practice.

"Users' willingness to share information is a key part of Facebook's business," reports The Washington Post. "The site makes the bulk of its money from ads that target users based on their personal information."

The point is that there's nothing truly private about Facebook. The social network is keenly interested in everything you do, watch, read, play and buy so it can make big bucks serving you ads. Users need to know this and understand that their Facebook account isn’t something they actually own and control.

The answer is to avoid over-sharing personal information on the site or anywhere else online.

If you're smart, you'll curate your digital presence and keep your preferences to yourself. Just for fun, you could even game the system and change your city, birth date and other personal data wherever you have shared it just to mess with all the many big businesses -- even outside of Facebook -- that perform data mining and profiling because they know they can profit by knowing more about you.

The recent debate involves the practice of some companies asking prospective employees to hand over their Facebook login credentials. It's crazy and one has to wonder why anyone would entertain the thought of working for an enterprise that would do such a thing.

Handing over your password to a potential employer is a violation of your privacy (and Facebook's privacy policy), but also of your Facebook friends' privacy.

But to look at it from the other side for a moment, it is also worth considering this: Should someone working for the FBI or CIA hand over a Facebook password? Should a teacher who has been accused of inappropriate communication with students? How about sex offenders who are looking for their first jobs out of prison?

Some people might consider asking those types of applicants for their Facebook logins to be appropriate. So, it is not a clear-cut issue.

In the meantime, the discussion around the topic has been lively. A recent post of mine discussing the prospective employee issue addressed how you can make it a non-issue by being careful what you post online.

A peer criticized that stance as missing the point about the current privacy debate. But, it is worth remembering that your Facebook account and your home aren’t the same thing -- not even close.

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