Students concerned over Facebook folly

Facebook’s founder says the site’s privacy policy is ‘too restrictive,’ causing some students to question their rights as users.

When the popular social networking site Facebook backpedaled to its old terms of service Feb. 16, it set off a controversy that made the Web site akin to “Big Brother.”

Last month, the site originally revised its terms of use, which stated Facebook owns users’ profiles and the content within each account and has access to profile content even after an account is deleted.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, posted an update on the site’s home page Feb. 26, announcing “a new approach that allows users to have a role in determining the policies that govern the site.”

Samantha Harrison, a freshman criminal justice major, said she did not think the now defunct terms of use were fair.

“I feel like [Facebook is] kind of private. It’s very famous, and people can see other people’s profiles without even being their friend,” Harrison said. “I figure, if you delete [an account], it should be done for, whether or not the information is still in the computers…it’s violating privacy.”

In a Facebook blog, Zuckerberg said he was excited about users’ concerns, saying the goal of Facebook is to “make the world more open and transparent.”

Zuckerberg claims the standard terms of use are “too restrictive” in helping the site reach this goal.

“Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with. When a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a license to use that information so that we can show it to the other people they’ve asked us to share it with. Without this license, we couldn’t help people share that information,” he commented on the blog.

Despite this, many students are playing it safe when posting information on their Facebook accounts.

Senior art education major Kelly O’Connell relies on the advice she received from her advisers and professors.

“They say the second you become this major, you have to make your Facebook private, make your MySpace private, all that stuff,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons I don’t put anything on my profile that’s incriminating.”

Some students change their names as a method to protecting their privacies.

Kevin Downs, a sophomore Spanish education major, uses an alias given to him in high school.

“I pretty much changed my name just so that anyone I didn’t want to find me couldn’t find me,” he said. “I only want my friends to be able to see it, and I don’t want anyone else to have access to that kind of information because its personal friend stuff. It’s not like MySpace where everything is there for the world to see.”

Users can make personalized privacy settings for certain sections of their accounts.

Still, most Facebook users choose to keep their profiles public.

Temple sociology professor Shanyang Zhao conducted a study with 83 students, and his findings were published in Computers in Human Behavior in September. Of the 83 students, 78 students admitted to having Facebook accounts. Out of the 78 Facebook users, six completely blocked their profiles, seven only blocked their photos and two had accounts dedicated to group activities. The remaining 63 students had unblocked profiles.

The entire study conducted by Zhao suggests students present their “hoped-for-possible-selves” to fellow users.

“Our findings suggest that Facebook enables the users to present themselves in ways that can reasonably bypass physical ‘gating obstacles’ and create the ‘hoped-for-possible selves’ they are unable to establish in the offline world,” Zhao said of the study.

“It’s a free service for people to keep in touch with each other, and I use [Facebook] to keep in touch with friends from high school, which is the main reason I don’t want to delete it,” Downs said. “But if it comes to them being able to keep these personal things that are mine, then I might have to delete it at the cost of not being able to keep in touch with my friends.”

Currently, Zuckerberg and his crew are working on new policies to move the site in the direction of being “open and transparent.”

Zuckerberg wants users to review and comment on two new documents, Facebook Principles, which defines users’ rights, and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which will take place of the current terms of use.

“Before these new proposals go into effect, you’ll also have the ability to vote for or against proposed changes,” Zuckerberg said in the blog.

Some students are still worried about the original policy change.

Freshman Robert Oliver, a pre-pharmacy and business major, said he is not so much concerned about Facebook possibly owning his profile as he is about the networking site changing its policy in a legal manner.

“If they had it somewhere in their agreement that they could change their policy anytime they want, then that’s fine,” Oliver said. “If people don’t like it, then they should just not have Facebook.”

Joshua Fernandez can be reached at

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