Writing this blog for over six years has taught me that criminals and fraudsters are persistent, creative, and use the same online tools that you and I use. You see this in a variety of online activities from malware disguised as anti-virus software to phishing e-mails to text message spam to malware customized for Apple brand products to check scams to ransomeware to the numerous tools criminals use to hack your mobile device in WiFi hotspots.
Social Media Today reported some interesting statistics about social networking sites and crime:
"54% of burglars say that posting your status and whereabouts on social media is a victim's biggest mistake. By broadcasting to people that you are away from home, you are advertising that you are leaving your home unprotected. 78% of burglars admit to using Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Google Street View to select victim's homes."
The statistics were compiled from several sources. The site posted an interesting infographic, which included:
"Sex crimes are the most common social media-related offense... 33% of all Internet-initiated sex crimes were instigated through social networking sites... In 50% of all sex crimes against a minor, offenders obtained information and/or pictures of the victim through the victim's social networking profile..."
Researchers previously documented that 30 percent of teen girls meet in-person people they met online. And, this 2011 Carnegie Mellon CyLab report (Adobe PDF) explored the evidence that criminals target children for identity theft and fraud. Of the children's identities examined by the researchers, about 10% experienced identity theft, with the rate highest among teenagers.
All of this makes Facebook.com's recent privacy changes seem totally idiotic. If you missed it, Facebook.com announced on Wednesday three privacy changes for teenage users:
"Up until today, for people aged 13 through 17, the initial audience of their first post on Facebook was set to 'Friends of Friends' – with the option to change it. Going forward, when people aged 13 through 17 sign up for an account on Facebook, the initial audience of their first post will be set to a narrower audience of 'Friends...' So, starting today, people aged 13 through 17 will also have the choice to post publicly on Facebook... In addition, teens will be able to turn on Follow so that their public posts can be seen in people's News Feeds. As always, followers can only see posts they are in the audience for."
Yes, you read that correctly. Previously, teens could not post publicly on Facebook. Now they can. Nothing could go wrong with that, right? Moreover, Facebook enabled the "Follow" feature, so people can read teens' publicly-available post without being connected as "Friends." Nothing could go wrong with that either, right?
To the good, Facebook changed the default setting for teen accounts to "Friends" from the much broader "Friends of Friends," a step in the right direction, but the other changes represent two big steps in the wrong direction. These changes came on top of another feature change that eroded users' privacy: Facebook eliminated the option for members to opt-out of having their Timelines searchable with Facebook's search mechanism.
This means that all Facebook members' Timelines are searchable. Some people wonder if it is time to leave Facebook. The reason Facebook gave for this change:
"Everyone used to have a setting called "Who can look up your Timeline by name?," which controlled whether you could be found when people typed your name into the Facebook search bar. The setting was created when Facebook was a simple directory of profiles and it was very limited... Today, people can also search Facebook using Graph Search making it even more important to control the privacy of the things you share rather than how people get to your Timeline. The setting also made Facebook's search feature feel broken at times..."
My view: if you make your website interface for privacy settings convoluted and difficult enough for people to use and to understand, then people won't use their privacy settings -- and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy to remove privacy features later.
Facebook launched a campaign in April 2013 to promote privacy among teenagers by working with the attorney generals from 19 states. These recent privacy changes seem to fly in the opposite direction. What are Facebook executives thinking?
Teens represent a group that is learning about privacy and the consequences of disclosing too much. (See the first paragraph above for a list of some of the online threats teens, and their parents, must learn to recognize.) These (anti-)privacy changes also highlight the reality of Facebook's business model:
- To make money, Facebook must erode members' privacy
- To make money, Facebook must treat teenage children as adults
- Parents have less and less control over their children's online activities
Remember the new privacy rules for children announced by the FTC in July. I just don't see the recent privacy changes by Facebook.com as consistent with these new rules.
What can parents do to help protect themselves and teach their children about online safety? One place to start is the Parents Resources section of the Stay Safe Online website, and this cell phone safety page for parents of teens.
What do you think about the above crime statistics? About the recent privacy changes by Facebook.com?