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Facebook and Privacy in 2012

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Looking back over 2012, identity theft, data security, and digital privacy, highlights (and lowlights) tend to point in the same direction – public awareness is the key to privacy, whether for good or ill.

Early in the year Facebook took centerstage, and has remained there all year. This was only occasionally because of Facebook itself – more often the social media site was held up as an example of how pervasive the use of social media has become in our society. From January forward, Facebook was held up as the main example of employers prying into their employee’s personal lives, requiring them to log in (or even to provide passwords) to allow human resources to examine their off-hours interests, friends, and so forth. Facebook was forced to address the issue head on by pointing to their privacy policy and usage agreement.

In the shadow of the tragedy in Aurora, CO, the media quickly found that the suspect in custody, James Holmes, had no Facebook page. A few months later, we hear that not having a Facebook profile is quietly considered to be grounds for suspicion. And a quick look at Lindsey Stone in Arlington Cemetery is enough to show us that what we put on that Facebook account is enough to get us fired.

It seems to be a social Catch-22 is being built up around us that will keep us from expressing our thoughts and feelings through our digital identity.

Most of us know that social media is driven by advertisers, which is why we can have access to such wonderful things without any fees. The whole point for the companies has transformed from a simple networking site into something to help advertisers reach their target market – an obvious evolution. Simply put, it costs money to maintain servers and storage space, buy bandwidth, and so forth. The money has to come from somewhere.

Facebook in particular has pretty much set the standard in the industry, having become the single most popular social media site on the internet. They have done so well with the idea that the company went public in 2012, although for some reason the offering did not perform nearly so well as anticipated. Many have pointed to their frequently updated privacy policy, which has drawn a lot of complaints from their user base. Others lack confidence in the company's ability to keep their users engaged. As Facebook looked for other ways to secure revenue, content on the site was throttled down, so that it is entirely possible that content from your friends might never reach your page unless they decide to pay Facebook to promote their posts – finally crossing the "free" line to ask their users for money.

Around the same time that Facebook opened up their public offerings on the stock exchange, the company also bought Instagram, which was subsequently exposed to public criticism for a change in the language of their copyright policy. The change didn't represent a new policy, mind you, it simply spelled out in greater detail the policy that was already in place – a clarification really. But the outcry against the perception that Instagram could take our pictures shared on the site and use them however they chose for a profit was loud, and the company quickly clarified their clarification, making sure everyone knew they still owned the copyright for their pictures.

All this has set the stage for the next couple of years in our legal system, whether we are talking about the laws that are being put into place, or the lawsuits that are coming to bear as users feel more and more… well, used.

It is unlikely that this hullaballoo will settle down any time soon, either. As pervasive as the internet has become in our lives, and the move over the past decade to use social media to stay readily connected to friends and family, our rights to control our personal information have been shifted from black and white to a legal gray-zone. And while consumer advocacy groups are doing their best to err on the side of caution, they simply lack the financial capability to bring the legal and legislative guns to the table that corporate lobbyists and attorneys are carrying.

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