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The Wall Street Journal published a breathtaking revelation (yes, the sarcasm is thick) that some information on Facebook is not private, even with the strictest privacy settings enabled:

Many of the most popular applications, or “apps,” on the social-networking site Facebook Inc. have been transmitting identifying information—in effect, providing access to people’s names and, in some cases, their friends’ names—to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found.

Unfortunately, many legitimate news organizations including The Washington Post, The LA Times, Bloomberg News, and Forbes have propagated the fear that your information is not yours, and that Facebook is to blame. These news organizations are either attempting to drive traffic through fear mongering – or worse – they have no idea how the internet really works and are just simply trusting  a “credible” source like the Wall Street Journal because they are uninformed and lazy.

Here is the truth about everything you do online : It is NOT private. A little article in TechCrunch today starts to paint the picture:

We’ll put aside the fact that no mention was made of the Wall Street Journal’s sister company and Facebook competitor MySpace….

The way this is being done is via referrer URLs (99% of the general population just got lost on what those are), which can contain profile IDs. Which can then be used to look up users. And whatever information that user has in his or her public profile can then be scraped and added to a database.

And then…well, nothing. It’s in a database. And theoretically can be used to target ads to you.

So, in laymen’s terms, when you sign up to use a third party Facebook app, you give them a little information about you so they can target advertising to you. If it is not plain and obvious to you already, nothing is free on the internet (not totally free). If you read content, play games, watch videos, do the social networking thing, or shop for anything, you are giving a little piece of yourself to the sites you visit. Most of us WANT this. Let me say that again in case you missed it. Most of us WANT the sites we visit to remember what we like – it prevents us from entering data over and over again. It prevents me from getting advertisement for women’s perfume. It lets my bank know that I do most of my banking online, and it does not treat me like a new customer but as an existing customer. It tells YouTube that I like kitten videos. You get the picture.

Further, if you operate on the web believing that you can do it privately, you are a fool. My educated guess is that less than 5% of people that use the web today have the technical skills needed to truly surf the web totally anonymously. And of those 5% that know how, most of us don’t care.

So, my advice? Do as Robert Scoble does (he’s part of that 5%):

How do I handle the privacy issues Facebook is having? I changed all my settings to “as public as possible.” That solved a few things.

1. It made it easy to figure out the privacy settings.

2. I won’t be shocked if something leaks into public view because now I’ll expect it.

3. It lets me move on with my life and make fun of all those wacky pundits who deleted their Facebook accounts.

In other words, expect your information to be public – only post things that you are okay with your boss, kids, spouse, friends, bank, congress, and your mom finding out. If it needs to be private, save it for email and the telephone (if you are paranoid or working for the NSA, perhaps you should stick to in person conversations in a brick room with no windows)

One last word on this – nobody (besides the people that make money selling you stuff) probably cares about your “private” information. Seriously, stop being so narcissistic and get over yourself.

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