Ronda Kaysen: Mark Zuckerberg clearly doesn't have any teenagers. If he did, the 25-year-old wunderkind wouldn't have rejiggered the Facebook privacy settings to expose every adolescent to public humiliation.
In a December 1 open letter, Zuckerberg claimed the new settings on his goliath social networking site would make "the world more open and connected" and give Facebook users "the tools you need to share and control your information."
That's nice Mark, but as we all now know, controlling our privacy in this newest incarnation of Facebook actually means having a lot less of it. I can no longer prevent other people from tagging me in embarrassing photos they post. Also, any Tom, Dick or Harry can see what networks and groups I belong to and what fan pages I join. Although Zuckerberg backtracked on the original change that made my friend list available to the world, it's still available to all my current friends. These are hardly changes that give me more control over my privacy.
Which brings me to teenagers. As we already well know, teens don't have the best track record on the social networking front. As a group, they're not the most discerning bunch when it comes to protecting their dignity and privacy. (Sexting comes to mind as a good example of this.) The new settings leave teens open unwanted humiliation from tagged photos that they can't block even if they want to, public outing for the online groups they join and the option for a potential predator to prowl through friend lists.
One scenario that particularly worries me is the gay teen who joins an online gay pride group, only to find that his grandmother, pastor, and potential employer can now Google his name and discover this without his permission. Another worry: the online predator who manages to 'friend' one teen in a group and now has unfettered access to all of her friends and network. And then, of course, there's the issue of the embarrassing pictures. Now, a teen can't even keep himself from being tagged in a photo that someone else posts without his permission. And that picture is online forever, long after the teen is no longer a teen.
Sure, we can tell our kids to get off Facebook. But that's not terribly practical. And it's not very effective anyway. Unless you contact the company directly and ask them to delete all your personal information, simply deactivating your account doesn't do anything. It still leaves it open to anyone who wants to see what was there before. And as our kids get older, everything they penned in high school will be fair game for any college admissions officer or employer to see.For their part, Facebook says they've made adjustments. Spokesman Andrew Noyes tells momlogic "As part of our initiative to give users control over the information they post on Facebook, we instituted special protections for minors. To begin with, Facebook is limiting the visibility of content created by users under age 18. If a minor seeks to share information with 'Everyone,' the widest circle of people who will actually be able see that content are his or her 'Friends,' 'Friends of Friends' and members of school or work networks he or she has joined. Furthermore, minors are opted out of public search by default."
Whether this is the end of the security "improvements" to Facebook is anyone's guess. After all, Zuckerberg retroactively changed the rules on us. Who's to say he won't do it again? All I can say is, good luck protecting your kid's privacy.
|Ronda Kaysen is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek.com, Architectural Record, Huffington Post, New York Observer and AM New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.|