January 5, 2011

Facebook Privacy and Businesses


Hostway Team

By Joanna Fletcher

There have been serious concerns about Facebook making news recently. As a small business with a Facebook page, what security issues are you facing? The major arguments about information are of limited concern to businesses, which are using their Facebook profile to get their information out to a bigger audience in the first place, but will affect the experience and quality of their Facebook audience.

User Security Scare

The main problem, from a user perspective, is the difficulty of controlling who sees the information contained in their personal profile. The tendency for Facebook to suddenly make big changes in the user experience also worries many. Facebook does notify users when these changes occur, but the message gets lost in a wave of other boring company communication, and most users simply click past it.

Seeds of Doubt

Recent privacy scandals on Facebook have included the Beacon program, which have tracked user's Web activity and shared it with their friends without permission. The potential exploitation of this information had marketers salivating, but was stopped in its tracks. However, the increase in profile hacking, nefarious Group invitations, and strange Page suggestions and Friend requests, are tarnishing the site daily. For a while, Facebook was a safe space, but no more. Users are more wary than ever of giving out information, even it is to access a company promotion.

Privacy Policing

Third-party applications (apps like Farmville or Mob Wars) can get information on anyone or any page who has agreed to it, and not just the information necessary to run them. Additionally, keep in mind that any pages you administer are linked to your personal profile. Even if there are no apps on your page, once that connection is established, apps on your personal profile have back-door access to information on who likes your page.

The developers of these applications sign agreements that they will only use the information they need for their application, and will not store it longer than necessary on their servers, but Facebook itself admits that this agreement has no enforcement to back it up (see http://news.cnet.com/8301-13739_3-9854409-46.html for more details).

Safety First

To protect your page and that of anyone connected with it on Facebook, do not install (through Add to My Page) any third party applications unless they are completely controlled by your business. Carefully evaluate any links and Likes before proceeding. Do not share full names or emails of employees, and do not link to their Facebook profiles on your page. Respect the privacy of contest winners by only using their first names and getting signed permission to use any photo likenesses. Use your page solely to update about your business, and if you have the discussion feature enabled, aggressively moderate all comments for privacy violations.

Security settings have recently been simplified, but most users have no idea how open their profiles are to this mass of developers, and may be unaware that they have the option to block applications that their friends have installed from access to their personal information.

About the Author

Joanna Fletcher is a netizen who has lived, worked and played in virtual space for most of her adult life. Her entrepreneurial drive is exceeded only by her tolerance for failure.

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