Facebook beefs up security: Some good, some stuff needs work

Facebook is undergoing some pretty interesting and I think beneficial changes to its Facebook security and privacy settings. My friend and colleague Anne Collier summarizes them quite well in her Net Family News blog (if you do not get her weekly newsletter, you REALLY should!). Here are some highlights:

  • Users will have the ability to approve a post or photo right before it’s visible to others.
  • Users will be able to choose a setting in which they can approve or not approve a tag someone else makes before it goes live.

Why are these changes so great? Because it provides a moment of pause before something goes public. A user can think for that one more second as to whether what they are about to broadcast is a good idea or not. In other words, it’s a concrete and immediate reminder as to what is about to happen.

The bonus will be if we can somehow communicate that point directly to the youth and young adults who might benefit from it most.

And speaking of youth, Facebook has also just published Own Your Space: A Guide to Facebook Security. Supposedly, its audience is “Young Adults, Parents, and Educators,” but I would be shocked if they consulted any youth before putting that document online: 14 pages of text and graphically sparse, it falls far short of being youth friendly. If Facebook truly wants to reach out to those younger users, it’s going to have to revise that manual into something that will actually be read.

"The Right to be Forgotten"

This Forbes article is a great premise for some sort of psychological thriller movie or Grisham novel — but it’s grounded in some semblance of reality. It highlights the idea — bandied about by policymakers and advocacy groups such as Common Sense Media — of allowing us to “erase” our internet histories. Wish you hadn’t posted that unflattering 3rd grade school picture? Poof — take it down. What were you thinking when you wrote all about your ex in that blog? No worries — just erase the whole thing. And that YouTube clip of you trying to re-enact the entire season finale of Lost after a few too many? Fear no longer….

Sure we can already take down the stuff we posted on our own, without any laws or protections needed. But what if that blog post goes viral? What if your wild high school buddy lacks any filters when deciding to post those keg party moments? What if someone shares a video of you again, and again, and again? “Right to be Forgotten” laws would allow for the deletion of ALL references to material about you not needed for “legitimate purposes” (so forget about fantasizing about getting rid of your online billing or credit score..).

On some level, this makes sense. After all, if I don’t like something publicly available, and it’s about me, I should be able to get rid of it. Especially if I posted it in the first place. Don’t I have the right to retract? However, as writer Adam Thierer states, such actions would be a huge violation of freedom of speech. Not to mention technologically impossible (as of now).

But the law does have some appealing applications. All those posts written by cyberbullies could be gone just like that. And easily erased if re-posted, thus discouraging future attempts. If someone is trying to change after being afflicted by addiction, or involved in a gang, they can remove that social networking history to avoid stigmatization.

Bottom line is, though, that there is no such law and probably will never will be. And people DO have the right to express themselves (within certain limits) and we have the right to access information, no matter how unsavory. So, we should think about every post we make before putting them up there for everyone to see. And share. Because, once it’s up there, you lose control over its future, and to some extent, your past.