eWeek’s Clint Boulton Talks Facebook & Privacy

By Ben

Earlier this week we discussed how a Facebook security glitch allowed user’s photo albums to be viewed. Today, RaceTalk was able to sit down with eWeek’s Clint Boulton to discuss privacy issues around social network sites.

RaceTalk: With the Facebook security lapse as the latest example, do you think people are too trusting that the information they put on social networks will remain secure?

Clint Boulton: I don’t think so. You sign up assuming a site whose sole purpose is to help people find each other and share information is going to properly standpost at that walled garden, so to speak. And that goes for any Web-based or SAAS-based company. If Facebook, or Google are hosting your data on their Web site, they have a legal, moral and ethical responsibility to protect that data. When they don’t they fail the customer, and ultimately, in their business model.

RT: Last November there was a publicized case of an intern that missed work due to a ‘family situation,’ but someone at work found he was actually at a Halloween party via his Facebook profile. Do you think it’s common for companies to use information gathered from social networks against someone like this?

CB: Yes, it is. I’ve heard myriad stories of companies not hiring job recruits because they’ve made fools of themselves on a social networking site. When you go to a party and you take pictures, you may share them with a few friends after, but it generally stays in the circle of trust. When you put them on the Web, you run the risk of unintended parties seeing them.

RT: What’s your view on companies searching social networks for someone before they hire them?

CB: Ah, to further the point. I think it’s a little underhanded. Would a recruiter hire a private detective to snoop on a potential hire? Not usually, because it’s quesionable behavior. The social network has, unfortunately, become a snooping tool. If recruiters feel the need to poke around about people, then they probably shouldn’t hire them.

RT: As soon as “Kristen’s” identity was discovered during the Gov. Spitzer Mess, information from Ashley Alexandra Dupre’s Facebook and MySpace profiles were publicized. What’s your view on reporters turning to social networks to gather information about individuals for a story?

CB: That is a sticky situation. Because what if we, as journalists took to using a social network to publish the names of rape victims, a classic no-no in the trade that breaks ethical boundaries? This is different. Fair or not, Dupre is collateral damage; she wasn’t a victim per se, merely someone involved with a high-profile politician. She should have known the risks going in as much as he surely did. Unfortunately, his compulsive solicitation, and what I can only assume from Dupre’s comments as her need for money led to this.

RT: Social networks clearly offer advantages and disadvantages. It’s easier to keep in touch with people and make connections, but it also offers an avenue where private materials can be made public. Do you think the benefits outweigh the risks?

CB: Absolutely. The machines don’t lie, but we humans need to be more careful about what we put out there. I use social networks but for work purposes only, and I don’t put on anything that can remotely deinfe my personality. No favorite teams, no politics, no favorite anything. I’m about as impersonal a social networker as you can get. But you know what? I feel secure. Can everyone else say the same?

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