Friday, March 27, 2009

Status Update: Big Brother is Watching You

By Louis Papa

The benefits of instant communication are obvious. But many lament that our vastly superior communication technology has made us tragically incapable of communicating with each other—text messages and social networks have basically retarded our ability to just sit down and talk to each other. On the other hand we are connecting with more people, and in that regard communication has substantially improved.

According to Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, “More than 175 million people use Facebook. If it were a country, it would be the sixth most populated country in the world.” The size of this network is truly incredible, and it only continues to grow. But at least one fairly chilling aspect of this information revolution is not that we’re not sharing enough with each other…it’s that we’re sharing too much.

Admittedly, this concern is somewhat paranoid. Nonetheless, it absolutely boggles the mind that in a society that both condemns and fears wiretaps, spy surveillance, unwarranted monitoring and other generally Orwellian practices, we actually encourage putting as much private information about ourselves as possible on the single most accessible universal library in history—the Internet.

Consider: Without even a second thought, you supply who you are, who your friends are, what you look like, and what your political and religious affinities are. You not only list your friends, but you also specifically describe how you are related to each of them. Also, let’s not forget that you have no qualms about sharing your sexual orientation or your romantic exploits with what are really just a bunch of strangers. You put up photos of yourself that everyone can look at, shamelessly chronicling with unmatched detail every single one of your actions (including illicit drug use) and you carefully identify everyone in your photos. You can even put up numerous videos of yourself and your friends, but when that isn’t enough, you can post a note listing 25 inane facts about yourself for everyone to read.

It is outside the scope of this article to discuss any one of these particular phenomena, but it’s worthwhile to take a moment to discuss the overall recklessness of putting this sort of stuff on the Internet. We have essentially created a compendium of information about ourselves that can be used at anyone’s discretion. We have done all of this absolutely free of charge without anyone even asking us. Never mind hackers and identity thieves. This is an Orwellian nanny-state’s wet dream—a populace that zealously volunteers information about itself for fun.

Legally speaking the government cannot spy on you. It is completely legal, however, for them to collect information that you volunteer. Hold on to your tinfoil hat, because if some shadowy government organization were putting together an index of some sort about its subjects, Facebook would actually be the best place for this cabal to start cataloging information about its citizens and begin categorizing them into various groups…for whatever reason.

But do you really volunteer that information? Take a moment to read over Facebook’s current terms of use:

“By posting User Content to any part of the Site [Facebook], you automatically grant…to the Company [Facebook, Inc.] an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy…and distribute such User Content for any purpose…and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content. [Emphasis added.]” – Facebook’s Terms of Use, Date of Last Revision: September 23, 2008.

To clarify, this means that when you post anything on Facebook (wall posts, notes, status updates, drunken photos, etc.) you give Facebook the permission to share that content with anyone they wish (whom may then share it with anyone they wish, and so on). Additionally, even if you delete your account, anything you post is saved on a file that someone else (whom you most likely do not know) can access. There has been a recent movement on the site to change the terms of service. But regardless of whatever the final terms of service are, in the end this is an agreement with an intangible corporate entity and this agreement is based solely on trust.

Take this merely as a casual observation; there is no hard evidence actually indicating that Facebook is a part of some devious plot to conquer our Western democracies. (Though you might want to Google “In-Q-Tel,” “D.A.R.P.A.” and “data mining” to learn about a fascinating connection Facebook has with the Central Intelligence Agency.) But the main point is, before you post up that next bleary-eyed photo of yourself staring at the camera through a haze of bong smoke wearing your “ARREST BUSH” t-shirt, you might want to take a moment to consider just who is going to see it and just how they might react.

[Check out the following for something a bit more illuminating:]

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