Facebook Is More Private…Or Is It?

Everywhere I’ve spoken as part of the Totally Wired Parent/Educator Tour over the past month, parents have told me that their teens have abandoned MySpace for Facebook. Teens believe that Facebook is “more private,” and in many ways Facebook’s roots contribute to this perception. Because the site was originally just for Harvard students, then just Ivy League students, then just college students, it always gave off the sense that you were communicating with the same friends you would see in the dorms. MySpace, on the other hand, was first embraced by musicians and artists in Los Angeles looking for a way to communicate directly with fans and hoping for their big break.

Researcher danah boyd pointed out in a recent blog post that the privacy settings on MySpace — either public for the world or private (just for my friends) are actually stronger than Facebook’s multiple options and check boxes in numerous places. From her post:

By default, people’s Facebook profiles are only available to their network. Join a City network and your profile is far more open than you realize. Accept the default search listings and you’re findable on Google. The default is far beyond friends-only and locking a Facebook profile down to friends-only takes dozens of clicks in numerous different locations. Plus, you never can really tell because if you join a new network, everything is by-default open to that network (including your IM and phone number). To make matters weirder, if you install an Application [Note from Anastasia: Facebook has opened itself up to developers who are creating numerous applications that teens are using to “decorate” their profiles], you give the creator access to all of your profile data (no one reads those checkboxes anyhow). Most people never touch the defaults, meaning that they are far more exposed on Facebook than they realize.

It’s really important that teens understand that nothing is completely private online, and that they should never post anything they wouldn’t want to somehow “get out there.” Teens should also understand that while Facebook may feel more private, their information and photographs are less private than they think.

P.S. I found this article about how parents and educators in Greenwich, CT, are growing more comfortable with social networking. Basically the reality that it’s not going away combined with teens becoming more savvy about privacy is fueling this trend. Yay!

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