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Facebook’s privacy issues: Do we really care?

By TheTechDad

Maybe it’s because there have been so many, but I am finding it hard to get upset about the latest Facebook privacy breach.

This week’s flap started when The Wall Street Journal reported that several popular applications on the social network were passing user identification data to third parties in violation of Facebook’s own privacy policies. Once a third party has a user ID, they can look up that person’s profile and potentially share personal information with advertisers and web tracking companies.

It is unclear how many applications may be involved in the potential privacy breach, although The Journal identified FarmVille and other popular games as some of the apps where users were at risk. At its peak, FarmVille was played by over 80 million Facebook members.

Of course, there was the usual outcry from privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In a New York Times piece, EFF spokesperson Peter Eckersley described the privacy breach as “extremely serious”. “Facebook, perhaps inadvertently, is leaking the magic key to tracking you online,” he said.

Others are not so sure. This time, many blog posts and comments appear to have a resigned air about them, as if people realize that this is the price you have to pay if you are going to spend any significant time online. Some went further, asking: What do people expect? Facebook is designed for sharing identities and personal information. Haven’t we been told often enough that everything we post online is likely to become public knowledge?

Facebook is certainly not alone when it comes to the problem of third-party applications. I am always slightly alarmed when I download apps from the Android Market and my smartphone warns me that “This application has access to your location, network communication, storage, and phone calls.” But of course, I click “Install” anyway, too concerned about getting the latest weather or football scores to be worried about where my personal information ends up.

And that is how the online privacy debate is shaping up. The benefits we derive from the Internet in terms of knowledge, communication, and entertainment far outweigh any concerns we may have about privacy. Besides, as the Times article points out, credit card companies and magazines have access to far more detailed information about us than any Facebook application.

On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dutifully apologized to users, as he has done so many times before. But he knows better than most that a flaw like this is not going to lose him any customers. We are too locked into Facebook, too addicted to that News Feed and our favorite online games to be worried about a little thing like privacy.

Should we be concerned about this latest privacy breach by Facebook? How much privacy can we really expect from social networks? Share your thoughts with the Online Mom!

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