500 Million Friends-and at least 1 Enemy

Until recently I was one of the three or so members of Manchester’s Twitterati who hadn’t seen “The Social Network” – the (allegedly) largely fictional story behind the birth of Facebook. I finally got around to it on a flight to New York a week or so ago and predictably, I loved it. Let’s face it, a fair amount of its running time dealt with IP disputes.

The bulk of the film’s plot revolved around Facebook’s founder, Marc Zuckerberg, variously presented as an anarchist, a genius and socially inept. The closing line may have summed up screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s intention to portray him as “not being an a**hole, even if he tries to be”.

Zuckerberg’s first scenes in the movie show him blogging (or flaming, depending on your point of view) after a breakup, much to the chagrin of his ex and the benefit of around 500 million members of Facebook – it was apparently his inspiration to get the site up and running based on the (apparently private) content of a number of Universities’ online yearbooks.

Whatever your opinion of Zuckerberg most seem to agree on the seismic effect Facebook has had on the nature of online privacy. Despite my own opinion that, at the end of the day, it’s always up to users to check their own privacy settings to ensure that they know exactly how much they’re revealing about themselves online, Facebook has always had an uneasy relationship with privacy – that may well now be changing with the announcement of two new security features on the site.

First, users can now login using a secure https connection across the entire site – this may slow down access but will allow secure browsing by default, cutting down the risk of identity fraud and data scraping. Second is the introduction of “social authentication”, moving away from the use of a captcha to having users authenticate their accounts based on information about who they know on the site, usually identifying photos of their Friends.

I can’t think of anyone who would see this as anything but a step in the right direction – Facebook’s entire business model is based on the use of personal information, even if it’s handed over voluntarily. They’re obliged to respect the privacy of users and protect them as far as possible – doing so to a limited extent over the past few years has recently seen the site valued at anywhere between $50 and $125 Billion and made Zuckerberg the youngest billionaire in history.

You may not have to much longer, but if you’ve ever ranted after your Facebook page was hacked, take comfort from the fact that even the Zuck isn’t safe – his own page was hacked earlier today, leaving behind a suggestion that Facebook change its business model to become a “social business” and let its users invest in the site rather than Banks.

No comment from Zuckerberg yet – not even a “like”. I’d like to think it happened while he was sipping an overpriced coffee and using unsecured Wifi in Starbucks. Maybe the first user’s privacy settings he looks at should be his own?

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