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Facebook Flaw Exposes Myth of Online Privacy

Facebook is making online privacy headlines once again, but privacy issues are not limited to Facebook

Facebook is making headlines this week for a flaw that exposed personal photos marked private--including pictures of Mark Zuckerberg and his dog. The glitch is Facebook’s fault, and Facebook responded quickly to address the issue once it was discovered. But, don’t believe for a second that this is the last time private information will be exposed online--on Facebook, or anywhere else.

Privacy advocates like to paint Facebook as anti-privacy. I believe that Facebook has a thin line to walk to balance between being a social network that enables users to communicate and share information, and being a guardian of privacy that protects the information being shared from being inadvertently exposed to others. I don’t envy Facebook’s position.

Sometimes it’s an outside hacker with malicious intent that finds and exploits a vulnerability to compromise a network and expose sensitive data. In the case of this latest Facebook glitch, it seems that a simple flaw in the logic of the abuse reporting process is to blame. In the end, it doesn’t really matter--private data is no longer private.

Facebook did not set out to violate privacy or expose private photos. It set out to enhance the self-policing system that allows Facebook users to flag and report abuse, and offensive posts or photos, and it didn’t go according to plan. But, as Facebook continues to tweak the existing social network, and introduce new features to expand its capabilities, it is safe to assume that flaws like this will be discovered again…and again.

However, this is not unique to Facebook. It is a reality of connecting to the Internet and trusting your personal data to be shared and stored there. Just look at the last year. Personal information that was once private was hacked, intercepted, compromised, or exposed on a regular basis. There were major breaches like Epsilon, Sony, and RSA Security illustrating how information that is secure and protected today may still be vulnerable and exposed tomorrow.

I am not suggesting the sky is falling. We don’t need to unplug from the Matrix, and live a Luddite existence in a cabin in the Rockies. We do, however, need to realize that the software and networks we are using are developed by mere mortals, and are imperfect. When it comes to identifying flaws, it is more a matter of “when”, not “if.”

Your online privacy can be a tenuous illusion. Be discriminating about how and where you share sensitive information. Be vigilant about using the security and privacy controls available to you, and monitoring your information. But, in the end, be realistic about your expectation of online privacy.

To quote John Bender from the classis movie “The Breakfast Club”, “Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.”

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