Sunday, June 06, 2010

Facebook Sells Your Profile

Recently, a friend of mine graduated from college interviewed with a large DC tank. This girl is Facebook savvy and keeps out both "The Man" and "Strangers" using the strictest privacy settings possible. As she says, "If I'm not friends with you, then all you know is I exist."

For an aspiring job hunter in the nation's capitol, she's made the right online privacy decisions, right? Wrong.

My friend made three major mistakes. She friended her professional references on Facebook. She assumed her privacy settings actually protected her. And she didn't anticipate her Facebook security guards were looking for a little extra cash.

Lately, Facebook is probably one of the top trending net topics. Readers have read concerns about privacy protection, information sharing, and unauthorized or impersonal privacy settings, but no one is asking the obvious question...

When you protect your data, who are you keeping out? I would postulate, you think you're protecting your data from The Man or Strangers and yet, you'd be wrong. You're more likely protecting them from your Ex or the weird guy in the next cubicle.

Previously, – prior to the recent FB update – would scan your privacy settings and report back what you were broadcasting to whom. With tools like ReclaimPrivacy you could safely assume a tagged birthday photo was safe from the prying eyes of future square employers and the government's conformity spies. You had control over what you posted, and who could see what you or others shared. However, thinking this way was my friend's first mistake.

As a young college graduate, she had never held a "real" job, and her network of transient positions generated a number of references. To keep in contact with these important professional critics she networked with them via Facebook. She assumed Facebook protected her, and even consulted her academic advisor to ensure friended references would be appropriate. Her advisors gave her the thumbs up, and Facebook assured her these connections would be kept private. Trusting Facebook was mistake number two.

My friend nailed her interview, provided references and spent her weekend excitedly awaiting a presumed positive response. Mistake number three was assuming Facebook gave a crap about her. Facebook's guards knew a back way in, for the right price. For a fee, this potential employer circumvented all of my friend's privacy settings perusing her profile as if they were her best friend. The employer read wall posts, saw conversations with references and even learned she was dating a co-worker who she had provided as a reference. While concern is legitimate, the issue is this ethical backdoor.

Facebook is selling our friendships anyone who wants our information. For the right price, Facebook arranges for your privacy settings to take break, allowing these privacy thieves a run on your data. No amount of privacy controls can stop the intruders. As I understand it, they are allowed to roam your profile security free, completely circumventing any privacy settings.

Luckily, a mutual connection to the employer called my friend and tipped her off to the employers' strategy. She re-sent the potential employer new, NON-Facebook-Friend references and is now nervously awaiting their response.

Could my friend have avoided this situation? Maybe. With better academic advice, better job references and better reference preparation she might have been okay. But the more important problem is, the ransacking of her information while her privacy settings sat helpless.

With this revealed, how do you feel about your privacy settings? Ask yourself again, who are you protecting your information from? The Man or Strangers? How much is it your information worth to a potential employer? To the government? To advertisers?

In reality, you might only be protecting your data from average Facebookers, and probably your Ex. For your sake I hope they don't have the finances to pay-to-play on your profile.


Rebecca said...

Thank you for writing this up. Hugely inappropriate behavior for a corporation. I think you should bold this sentence. "For a fee, this potential employer circumvented all of my friend’s privacy settings perusing her profile as if they were her best friend." That is the rub. And it sucks.

Jim said...

I can go along with this up to a point, but I'm suspicious about the suggestion that FB's "guards" took a bribe--"sold access for a price." Do you have any documentation or confirmation of any of this?

Trace said...

I have been barred from giving too many details as the person in question is applying for a position. If I can find out more, I'll do a follow-up. Thanks for the comment!