In the past week, two stories have arisen that should give any Facebook user concern over the privacy of their Facebook accounts.

Facebook has introduced its timeline feature in which old posts would be available under their new, and downgraded, privacy settings. Users need to clean up their histories themselves as Facebook has enabled this option for everyone.

If you logged onto Facebook yesterday, perhaps you caught a link at the top of the News Feed that read: “About Ads: Ever wonder how Facebook makes money? Get the details.” The answers provided some context on the news that starting in January, Facebook will start integrating a type of ad, called “sponsored stories,” that display your friends faces next to content they have “liked” in larger-sized ads your News Feed mix. “Facebook makes its money from showing you ads,” the company told consumers yesterday and with the ramp up to its spring 2012 IPO, the social network is getting serious about that endeavor.

In what seemed like an unrelated move, in September, Facebook announced a brand new type of profile called Timeline, where your whole personal history is laid out by month-by-month, all the way back to your birth. At the time, Facebook described it to consumers as a chance to: “Share and highlight your most memorable posts, photos and life events on your timeline. This is where you can tell your story from beginning, to middle, to now.” By the end of this year all 800 million plus Facebook profiles will have been converted to this new interface.

Timeline is centered around making Facebook money.

Disguising ads as your friends’ updates is being offered up as an antidote to the dismal click-through rates for traditional web advertising. Sponsored stories in your feed and sidebar ads based on your friends’ likes will become ubiquitous. Indeed in marketing materials, Facebook says these new premium ads are 90 percent accurate, compared to the industry average of 35 percent. “When people hear about you [the brand] from friends, they listen.”

sponsored stories are different from ads in that a user’s name or profile might appear alongside the ad,  ”If you’ve liked that business’s page, the story about you liking the page (including your name or profile photo) may be paired with the ad your friends see.”

Facebook is currently being sued in California over the issue of ads that people have liked. It depends on the users how much they will tolerate from Facebook’s new sponsored stories in their Timeline.

In Australia, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that it is perfectly legal for anyone to take photos from facebook and use them in their news stories as the photos are not private.

“The ACMA made it clear that while it considers the use of privacy settings an important consideration when assessing material obtained from social networking sites, the actual settings are not determinative,” the regulator noted.

Instead, the regulator will determine matters taken before it on a case-by-case basis.

The ACMA’s CyberSmart web site advises that “even if your profile is private, you can’t control what your friends do with the information you post”.

“Don’t post photos or information that you wouldn’t want anyone else to see,” it states.

Here, the ACMA is advising people that you shouldn’t really trust anything on Facebook because 1) it’s not going to be private anyway and 2) if you don’t want your information shared, don’t share it. A person may assume that, since they have tagged a photo as private, if they share it with just one other person, their control of that photograph is now out of their hands. Anyone who sees the photograph can copy it and move it to a more public area on their Facebook page or send them to a third party. Although the sharing of the photograph violates copyright, the question of any damage done is still up for debate.

It is understandable that the general public’s idea of privacy and Facebook’s are diametrically opposed. The public only wants certain people to see their information. Facebook desires to monetize everything about a person, thus the less private it is the better for the company. The general consensus on Facebook, or any other social networking site, is that nothing on Facebook is private. It doesn’t matter if you’ve marked something as private. Consider that it isn’t private and the information will be leaked one way or another.

Always remember, if you are not paying for the service, you are not the customer, you are the product. On free social networking sites, such as Facebook, your information is worth money to Facebook and they will use it to make a profit.

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