Social networking site Facebook has reportedly more than 663 million users as at end of last month with the United States, Indonesia, United Kingdom, Turkey, India, Mexico, Philippines, France, Italy and Germany having the largest number of users.
The United States has 155,231,120 people with Facebook accounts, and the Philippines has 23,169,300 users.
Although Australia is not in the Top 10, on a per head basis it is positioned as number 8 with 5,409,900 Facebook users representing 24.9% of its 21 million population.
With this number of users in Facebook not to mention other social networking sites, one wonders how many of the users are aware of the privacy practices of their host sites? How many have even bothered to read through the sites’ privacy statements before signing up? How many are aware of their privacy rights? And if they are, what actions have they taken to protect their personal information?
Privacy issues have always been an issue in the internet. There are websites which with the use of tracking scripts may be not privacy compliant. There are also websites that do not publish their privacy policies, how they obtain users’ personal information and what they do with the users’ information.
Last year, Facebook was severely criticised for its privacy practices. Facebook was reported to have been not only sharing users’ personal data with advertisers, but sharing the information without the users’ knowledge or consent.
“The information included usernames and ID numbers that could be traced back to individual profiles. Large advertising companies including Google’s DoubleClick and Yahoo’s Right Media were identified as having received the information although they claim to have not made use of it.
“The information could be used to look up individual profiles, which, depending on the site and the information a user has made public, include such things as a person’s real name, age, hometown and occupation.”
It was not until the Wall Street Journal stepped in when Facebook stopped sharing the data, the report said.
The world is not wanting of privacy legislations. Australia for example has legislations governing privacy practices as well as anti-spamming. But over and above legislations, there is a need to educate internet users. In a couple of earlier blog posts, we noted the initiatives taken by the Australian Communications and Media Authority on the importance of public education in anti-spamming and we reported “best privacy practices.“
Recently, the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities has launched a range of programs and initiatives to promote awareness of privacy issues.
APPA is the principal forum for privacy authorities in the Asia Pacific Region “to form partnerships and exchange ideas about privacy regulation, new technologies and the management of privacy enquiries and complaints.” Its member-countries are Australia, British Columbia, Canada, Hong Kong, Korea, Mexico, and New Zealand.
One recent initiative taken by APPA was to designate this week, 1-7 May, Privacy Awareness Week.
“It’s sometimes easy to disclose more information about ourselves than we need to,” said Chairman Chris Chapman of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, adding that ACMA fully supports APPA’s awareness initiative.
“Your personal information is yours alone and you are generally under no obligation to hand it over to anyone without knowing what they are going to do with it.”
To mark Privacy Awareness Week, the ACMA is providing a suite of resources for teachers, parents and teens on e-security, keeping personal information safe and identity theft. The ACMA also provides important privacy information about smartphones and why you should treat your mobile phone like you would your wallet.
To protect your personal information, here are APPA’s top tips for social networking:
2. Think about the information you share and how it’s being used, eg, what might a future employer or partner think if they read it?
3. Remember, the internet lets your information be collected and shared easily. The harmless information you post could be added to the mix, creating a full profile about you. Who might see it?
4. Sharing information with just a few people doesn’t stop it reaching a wider audience; be aware who might pass things on
5. Before you post and tag pictures of someone else, ask for their consent – and request that they do the same to you
6. Set up ‘friend’ groups to control the access different people in your life have to your personal details
7. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know
8. Location based check-ins can be risky. Do you really want everyone to know that no-one’s home?