Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Privacy on Facebook

Keeping a close eye on your Facebook privacy settings may be worth your while. When the social networking site was launched six years ago, people didn't quite realize the possible effects of putting personal information online. Since then, we've all heard stories of bosses firing employees over questionable tagged photos, and of incessant commentary on relationships gone sour.

"There's really a loss of control over your own data," said University of Western Ontario media and information professor Anabel Quan-Haase. By the time you've removed a tag or deleted a wall-post, it's often too late, she added.

However, Quan-Haase, an avid Facebooker herself, believes that people are catching on to the importance of adjusting their Facebook privacy settings. In a recent survey of students, she found that nearly 80 per cent were making use of the privacy settings.

Since Facebook relaxed its privacy settings in December, there's been an outcry of users who feel that their information is being compromised. Various sites have been posting tips and videos teaching Facebookers how to preserve their privacy and still use Facebook as a social tool.

Assistant commissioner of privacy for Ontario Ken Anderson said that Facebook should default its privacy settings to the highest level and allow users to adjust from there. According to him, it currently uses the opposite tactic. Anderson has met with Facebook's chief privacy officer Chris Kelly to discuss this suggestion.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner provides and in-depth handbook on using Facebook safely. "I think that safety is a challenge whether we're in the online world or in the real world," said Anderson.

Ultimately, both Anderson and Quan-Haase agree that Facebook can be a great tool, depending how it's used. "That doesn't mean that we avoid it," said Anderson, "we use it smartly."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Digital advocacy making impact

Joining a Facebook group may mean more than you think. Digital advocacy, whether in the form of Facebook groups, twitter or blogs, is beginning to carry weight in Canada and across the world.

"It's very much still the beginning of the curve for digital advocacy and digital democratic participation in Canada," said digital public affairs strategist Mark Blevis. Blevis referenced the Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament Facebook group, now at more than 220, 000 members, as an example of growing digital advocacy.

Blevis added that while, now, "face-time" is more effective in causing governmental change, online advocacy is rapidly gaining currency and will eventually be on par with strategies like letter-writing.

According to Internet scholar Michael Geist, digital advocacy is effective for ten reasons, which he discussed at a Google event in 2008:
  1. Organizing power
  2. Online and offline (arranging offline advocacy online)
  3. Mainstream media (getting coverage)
  4. Educates
  5. Action (lets people know what they can do)
  6. Speed
  7. Digital tools (overcoming web surveillance)
  8. Localized (local branches of large groups)
  9. Government 2.0 (e.g. e-petitions)
  10. General purpose sites (greater usage, harder to block)
In his Toronto Star column, Geist cites successful examples of digital advocacy in Canada thus far, including the Facebook group against changing laws for young drivers and his own Fair Copyright for Canada group. Both groups were able to prompt government action.

"It's exciting to see how this is all evolving," said Blevis.