Over the past few days several variations of a generic ‘privacy notice’ have been making the rounds on Facebook, as users attempt to protect their profiles from the prying eyes of governments, companies and individuals, simply by posting the notice on their walls or as a status update.
This is just one of many ‘chain letters’ that plague the social web on a daily basis. Before sites like Facebook became the target for these viral time-wasting exercises, it was the email inbox, and before that it was the humble letterbox in our front door. Usually these ‘chain letters’ spread rapidly across the social graph only to fizzle out even faster, but these privacy-focused posts seem to have a far greater longevity.
The reason for this is simple. Most Facebook users, or users of any social network for that matter, have no idea if the photos, comments or statements they post online are protected or not. When presented with a statement telling us that we’re not legally protected, we have no idea if it is true or not, because let’s face it, we never bothered to read the terms and conditions in the first place. We simply sign up to online services, ticking the ‘I Agree’ box under the T’s & C’s, oblivious to the rights we are waiving in the process.
It’s only when presented with these kinds of privacy scares that people realise they have no idea if the content they publish on the internet is protected or not. One thing’s for sure: privacy notices posted on your wall aren’t going to protect you from anything. The only protection worth more than the paper it isn't written on is contained within the privacy policies and terms and conditions made available via links at the bottom of every social network’s homepage.
The best course of action when using social networks is to assume that everything you do online is public. At the end of the day, don’t post information on the web if you do not want others - including law enforcement, your boss and your technophobe mum - to see it.
Who knows what will happen to Facebook in the future and where their archive of private information could end up. Servers can be hacked, making private information available to anyone if it is leaked into the public domain. And what if sites like Facebook shut down? Unlikely as it might seem, anything is possible. What happens to your private data then?
The most likely situation that could cause private information to leak from services like Facebook, isn't the FBI hacking into your profile, it's a friend, family member or spouse who accesses your account through a smartphone or computer. No ‘privacy notice’, be it on your Facebook wall or tattooed on your forehead, is going to save you from that.