We have truly entered a social-networked monitoring society. So keep an eye on your Facebook friends.
In 2009, Zuckerberg declared the age of privacy over. By making Facebook user information public by default, he really did mean it. He later backpedaled and removed the default public-facing status update, but the age of privacy was dead long before that. Social-media monitoring service Secure.me aims to help users keep track of the types of information they are sharing, and with whom.
"We introduced Secure.me at the end of last year, and we had a vision that social networks were the next step in the security IT industry," Secure.me Co-Founder Christian Sigl tells ReadWriteWeb. "Facebook is close to one billion users. It's getting more and more important to get an overview of what you share on Facebook."
Your Facebook friends, like your real-life friends, are a reflection of you. Facebook users should proceed with caution, especially as the defriending trend continues. Not to mention the fact that potential employers are asking job candidates for their Facebook passwords; the House GOP shot down a bill to prevent this from happening, essentially making it possible for employers to get away with super-stalking their potential employees. What are users to do aside from either shutting down their Facebook profiles completely, or cleaning them up significantly?
Monitoring service Secure.me seeks to help users gain more control over their Facebook information. It initially only seemed useful for parents who wanted to monitor their children's activities on Facebook. In light of the ever-changing Facebook privacy concerns, however, it has become clear that users need to monitor their own profiles as well.
Secure.me is free and easy to sign up for. I decided to test it out using my Facebook profile as the guinea pig. The Summary overview gives users three main analyses: privacy, profile and network.
The privacy analysis scoured my Facebook profile and returned information that already seemed obvious: The fact that I chose to share my hometown, location, education, work, bio, some family members and political views, could compromise the way people choose to view me. Listing family members seems like the riskiest thing to do: This exposes your biological family to Facebook and your social network. Yet this is exactly the type of information that Facebook encourages users to share. After all, it is the information that most easily groups and identifies us, and helps us connect with other users.
The profile analysis discovered that the words "art," "pelvis" and "tattoo" were cause for concern. Overall, the language that Secure.me identified on my profile was "positive," which is perhaps a better indicator of overall profile fitness than individual posts. The third option, network analysis, brought up nearly 100 questionable posts, all of which either had to do with politics or keywords like "idiot," "porn" (as in, food porn), or other types of profanity - which is not necessarily a bad thing, according to Secure.me.
On the whole, the service says that the mood of my friend network is positive. Every user knows their Facebook community, and what to expect from them. I don't care if my friends use profanity, so long as its tasteful. The most useful information gained from this analysis of nearly 10,000 posts was the fact that one of my Facebook friends has been posting a harmful link; it's from a virus that's posting spammy status updates that say "View today's photo of the day!" along with a link to a harmful app.
The Facebook Photo Paparazzi Effect
The most useful aspect of Secure.me is the biometric face-recognition tool. Google+ made this useful feature optional to users months ago. No such tool exists on Facebook. It does tell you if you've been tagged in a Facebook photo by a friend, and it gives you the option to approve tags manually before the images appear on your wall. But Facebook does not notify you if photos of you are uploaded by people who are not your Facebook friends. The good news is that if someone with which you are not Facebook friends uploads a photo of you, they won't be able to tag you - though they can write your name into the photo caption. Still, that image of you can float around Facebook, unbeknownst to you - and if you leave your house (as in, have a life), chances are people will recognize you in that photo.
I like to call this the Facebook Paparazzi Effect. Think about it: Are real-life celebrities notified when a trashy tabloid takes their photo? Of course not. And then the glossy hits the newsstands with incriminating text alongside a random photo of the celeb. Admit it: You've gazed at and even purchased these magazines. We love our celebrity gossip. In the social-networked era when everyone gets their 15 minutes of social media fame, we're all mini celebs in the eyes of our Facebook friends.
One thing I found odd about this: Secure.me only takes into account photos of you that are actually of your face. There's a culture on Facebook of tagging people in photos to let them know about something, to invite them out to dinner, to send a shoutout, or just to acknowledge them. When I tested out the biometric face-recognition tool, I also discovered a few photos in which I'd been tagged as inanimate objects: a pink flower, a printer, a lawn ornament.
Oftentimes it is the personality quirks and the language of Facebook subcultures that reveal more about a user's personality than the more obvious photos, activities and information shared. In the meantime, be selective about whom you befriend, and what types of slang you use within your Facebook subcultures. Your friends are a reflection of you.