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Facebook Announces Tighter Privacy Standards


Facebook announced this week that they were going to implement tighter privacy standards. The announcement came after a year in which Facebook was heavily criticized on multiple fronts for its weak privacy settings. We were part of that criticism as the first genealogy website to warn people in the spring of this year that there were serious privacy concerns with popular genealogy applications on Facebook like We’re Related.

Basically, the privacy settings on Facebook were so porous as to be almost useless to the point where all the information was available for pretty much anyone to see. Several government regulators and privacy advocate groups escalated the battle during the summer and Facebook began to slowly make changes. This week, Facebook announced a significant upgrade to their privacy settings. You can read the announcement here. This will have big implications for anyone using Facebook for genealogy.

There are two major privacy concerns associated with Facebook. One concern is common to all social networking sites and the second concern is specific to Facebook. The privacy problem that is common to all social network sites is that people tend to over share information. People simply provide too much personal information about themselves and about others. Usually this information comes in the form of small doses over time. These small doses of information by themselves can be quite harmless, but in aggregate they can potent.

It is not very difficult to paint an accurate portrait of an individual by the accumulation of small facts about the person. And it is not just nosy friends and family that can listen in. Neighbours, business partners, employers, insurance companies, credit-rating agencies, criminals and various government agencies (both domestic and foreign) actively sweep Facebook to build up profiles of people. The more sophisticated groups use specialty software and databases to vacuum information and profile people from Facebook and other like sites.

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