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Safe Facebook = Clean Coal??

Written by Jae Kim, April 22, 2011
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Actiance ArrowThere have been lots of discussions around energy recently in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, especially about clean-burning coal technology and its hopes and reality.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear clean coal, I know I have to pay extra attention to actual scientific claims to differentiate marketing and political spins from scientific facts.  I get a similar feeling when watching late-night TV ads, such as the one for the “no-exercise weight loss” drug.  Something just smells fishy.

Well, that’s what I felt when I heard the words “privacy,” “safety,” and “Facebook” uttered in the same sentence.

The whole premise of Facebook and social media revolves around sharing.  However, there’s an inherent risk:  sharing information with someone with whom you didn’t intend.  In fact, it happens quite often.  Think about a disgruntled ex-employee who causes harm using inside information.  Although information is shared in good faith, it can cause damage if you share too much information without some level of protection.

Behold, victims of hacked Facebook accounts.
See for yourself at

It should be noted that using Facebook, likewise, is inherently risky business.  You can always share too much without proper protection.  The only mechanism that protects us from someone using that information against us is mutual trust.  We all value trust and that’s what’s keeping these social interactions possible in Facebook.

But, there are always cases where people fall victim to information piracy because of not knowing whom to trust or how much to trust.  That’s a real problem.

When we meet people in real life, we rely on our senses to see, hear, read, and touch people around us and, ultimately, assessing just how trustworthy they are.  Yet in Facebook, it’s not as clear-cut.  It’s too easy for individuals with ill intentions to mask their true identities and pretend to be someone else.  All they need is a fake Facebook account and copy-and-pasted picture to impersonate someone.

This problem manifests itself in multiple forms in Facebook.

One obvious case is people creating fake Facebook IDs.  Although it’s clearly in violation of the site’s terms of use, Facebook is not validating anyone’s identities.

Another problem is the proliferation of malware in Facebook applications.  Facebook has written an application developer’s guide to encourage good behavior, but there are too many individuals exploiting this “social trust.”  As the number of people who abuse this trust grows, Facebook will ultimately become less reliable and will have to deal with less sharing as a consequence.

Yet another issue is unclear privacy policies.  As I wrote in my last blog entry, the FTC determined that Google must be held accountable to third-party privacy audits.  Adding a new feature without clear privacy guidelines is a bad thing, and the FTC has shown its willingness to go after such underhanded tactics.

It’s refreshing to see similar sentiments expressed in other bloggers like Graham Cluley at Sophos and Justin Williams at Classy Llama Studios.

The ball is entirely in Facebook’s court now.  Will Facebook burn cleaner coal for the rest of the social media industry?  Or will it continue to pollute social media with unregulated social pollutants?

What do you think?  Please tell us how Facebook can build a more socially responsible environment for all of us.

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