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Network Connection

By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Director of  Academic Computing and User Services

No Longer Anonymous

In case you hadn't noticed, Facebook is the hottest thing going for the 35-65 year-old set.* Facebook began as the exclusive dominion of the college crowd, requiring a .edu address just to join. In September of 2006, Facebook opened itself up to any and all e-mail addresses for registration, organizing around geographic rather than college-centric networks. Then in 2007 , Facebook opened up searching so that any member could search for any other member's name, and they continue to make changes that expand the scope of participation and access within the social network.

It's not surprising to me that Facebook is such a "big thing" these days. But, Facebook came to my immediate attention a couple of years ago when I got a few membership confirmation requests sent to an administrative e-mail address used to support an IT application I manage. This prompted me to sign up with my .edu address to learn a little bit more about how Facebook worked. It was interesting, if unspectacular and for a long time, my Facebook account was happily anonymous -- anonymous, that is, until my spouse discovered Facebook and subsequently found me there. I had no choice, but to become her Facebook friend.

Befriended

As her activity increased, I got "friend requests" from people we both had known during our college years and with whom she'd reconnected via Facebook. Pretty soon, family members started showing up on Facebook, as well as current and former colleagues from here at UNT. But the full impact of Facebook didn't hit home until I started hearing from people I knew in High School. I willingly admit that my primary goal in High School was to get out of there as soon as I could. I have fond memories of a few close friends who I've intermittently kept up with over the years, but for the most part, that chapter of my life was one to be left behind. Now, thanks to Facebook, I may be working my way back into the old High School social network. How scary is that?

I can't make any claims to being anonymous on the Internet. I've been working at UNT since the 1980's. I've had a web page up since at least 1995 (maybe earlier). This column has been online  since 1998, and long-since useful Internet books that I contributed to back in the late 1990's still pop up when you "Google" my name. So, if any of those people from High School had really wanted to find me, they didn't have to look too hard. Yet Facebook seems to be very successful at it's function of creating social networks, sometimes when you least expect them.

If Facebook was a country . . .

While my professional presence has been readily accessible online for quite some time, I'm not sure how I feel about Facebook maintaining a snapshot of my personal interactions. It's been pointed out that if Facebook was a country, it would be the 7th most populous country on earth. Who governs that country? Who writes the rules? Who protects your privacy?

Earlier this year, Facebook tried to quietly change their terms of use to eliminate a provision which terminated their rights to your content when you remove it. What most of the population of Facebook don't realize is that by using the service you provide Facebook with an "irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof..." The change they made would have allowed them to retain these rights even if you removed your content, but an uproar among Facebook users after these changes came to light caused them to roll back to the prior version of the language.

All this is reminiscent of similar language found in the Google terms of use discussed previously in this column. The nature of these services requires that you provide some rights for them to store and manipulate content you place on the site. If you post a photo and share it with your friends and end up being embarrassed, you can't sue Google or Facebook for sharing your intellectual property, when that's the purpose of the service. That part seems fair. However, in both these cases, the rights that these companies claim seem to go far beyond what is required to operate their services. If you post a photo on Facebook or Google, then you are providing them with a right to plaster it all over the world if they think it will advertise the service or anything else, for that matter.

In some countries other than Facebook, governments are established which will protect the rights and privacy of their population. So while I won't withdraw my account from Facebook yet, I still prefer the terms of use found in the U.S. Constitution to those imposed by Facebook. In the mean time, I'll continue to be no longer anonymous.


* Fastest Growing Demographic on Facebook: Women Over 55

  Why Facebook Is for Old Fogies

  Grandpa is ... browsing your Facebook page

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Originally published, March 2009 -- Please note that information published in Benchmarks Online is likely to degrade over time, especially links to various Websites. To make sure you have the most current information on a specific topic, it may be best to search the UNT Website - http://www.unt.edu . You can also search Benchmarks Online - http://www.unt.edu/benchmarks/archives/back.htm as well as consult the UNT Helpdesk - http://www.unt.edu/helpdesk/ Questions and comments should be directed to
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