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Facebook is the least of our worries

By Archives April 8, 2008

Have you read Facebook’s privacy policy? Neither had I until I came across a YouTube video entitled, Does what happen in the Facebook stay in the Facebook?
The video was posted on the profile of a friend who was about to take a stand and do the unthinkable for most university students, deactivate. Why would he remove himself from this addictive networking site, I wondered?
After watching the video, it was quite clear – the privacy policy is appalling. Did you know that Facebook has the irrevocable right to, and I quote its terms of service, “use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, and distribute user content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise.” Yes, that’s right – they own everything on your profile. That cute pic of you and your boyfriend? It’s theirs. That carefully compiled list of your interests, favourite music, movies and books? They can name their price and distribute it to any market research company that’s willing to pay for such valuable information.
In addition, they note your IP address – the key to your online life including search history and e-mail, so there’s no hiding your love for Hello Kitty, S & M, or Orlando Bloom. Not to mention the fact that many people list personal information like their phone number, address, school, daily schedule, religious and political views. The latter of which could be very interesting to American government organizations like the CIA and Department of Defence – both of which have connections to Facebook according to the YouTube vid.
So if the government has access to Facebook, what other private information do they have on us? Well, in this post-9/11 society, the answer is that there is little they can’t find out about us. With the ratification of the Patriot Act and its successor, The Domestic Security Enhancement Act, the United States government has gained the right to use all kinds of unconstitutional investigative methods, including wiretapping and unrestricted access to medical, credit and library records. Warrants for this information are easy to come by – all the intelligence agency needs to do is say that you are a suspected terrorist, which seems to be everyone and his cousin these days, and boom, you’re private life shrinks tenfold.
And it doesn’t stop there. Look around you and no doubt you’ll notice that you’ve become a TV sensation. CCTV that is. Video surveillance has become an inescapable part of our daily lives. Sure, we haven’t quite hit the severity of London’s web of security cameras, which line every street and track the comings and goings of every citizen, but it won’t be long before we follow in their footsteps. London authorities say that cameras do an invaluable service in keeping order, and indeed they did catch the London Tube bombers faster than they would have been able to using conventional policing.
But how much privacy do we have to give up in the name of security? How “Orwellian” does our society need to become before we take a stand and demand the cameras be turned on our shrouded government? Here in Canada, we are definitely better off than our Southern neighbours, but the Anti-Terrorist Act of 2001 still follows in its big sister’s footsteps; granting similar investigative rights to the government.
I think what maddens me the most is a public that is sitting back and accepting that our private lives must shrink in the name of “home security”; an acceptance that is clearly due to the culture of fear instilled in us since the threat of terrorism first appeared on the scene. Take one part threat and a dozen parts naivety and you’ve got a society that puts their lives in the hands of a government that is desperate to know everything about us. In the wise words of Benjamin Franklin, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither and will lose both.” So stop worrying about Facebook and start worrying about the hand that feeds you.