Any stalkers or identity thieves out there would find a gold mine in Openbook. All they have to do is type “here’s my phone number” or “here’s my address”, and they’re instantly presented with a list of Facebook users who openly disclose this information in their status updates.
Granted, the Facebook users who tend to come up in the results have not used the privacy settings to their full advantage. But, I wondered, what would make someone think it’s OK to post their home address or phone number on Facebook at all, let alone as a status update? I can see the possible confusion, though. Facebook asks you or your child for all this information as part of the account set-up process after all. So can you really blame these users for their ignorance?
Herein lies the true problem—a lack of education and awareness. These Facebook users, both young and old, need an education in Internet safety. Sure, Facebook sure as heck doesn’t make it easy to understand their privacy settings, in fact, they’re quite complicated, but that doesn’t rule out the fact that these users are blatantly putting their personal information out there for strangers to see. That said however, Facebook’s default “open blinds” policy when it comes to privacy settings shows that, in the end, you can’t rely on them to help you protect your information, it’s entirely in your hands.
Parents, Openbook shows us exactly why we need to stress the importance of Internet safety awareness to our children again and again. Never, under any circumstances, is it OK to share personally identifiable information (“PII” for short) on any social network.
Take note: Personally Identifiable Information includes: first name, last name, date of birth, phone numbers, name of school, instant message username (IM), and home address. Again, this is all information that Facebook asks us to provide, and to the “average” new user, the setup process implies that providing this info is perfectly safe.
In the end, we have to remember that Facebook has half a billion users on their site, and it’s the last place you want any of your or your child’s PII showing up. To put it into perspective, even if 1% of Facebook users were cyber criminals that’s still 5,000,000 strangers who are out there preying on children or trying to steal identities.
Openbook’s website should act as a wake-up call to parents, and they make that clear with their “Learn why this is bad!” button which leads visitors to a page explaining why Openbook exists, how their site works, and what they want Facebook to do about it. Simply put, they want Facebook to make their privacy settings easy to understand, and I wholeheartedly agree.