Safety on Facebook: Does it Exist?

19 05 2010

A cartoon of a child on a computer.Ever since MySpace and Facebook exploded into pop culture, parents, teachers, and other leaders have decried how easy it is for kids to get in over their heads enjoying the very things that make social networking fun: playing multiplayer games, sending party invitations, and browsing their nearby neighbors—all things that make it easy to meet new people.

Behind all the buzz and fun is the fact that kid-magnet social networks, like Facebook and MySpace, are also popular with those who seek to do kids harm.

In response, Facebook has unveiled a new Safety Center, its latest tool to fight abuse on the network.

The safety center is a portal to information, some of which is provided by Facebook and some of which is provided by other partners like Childnet International and Connect Safely. It seems to be an easier way to find answers to questions we’ve all had at one time or another.  For that reason alone it’s worth a mention, although there’s no “Golly!” factor at work.

The network was criticized in recent years for not doing enough to keep tabs on predators who had created accounts.

The Safety Center just answers some questions, it’s no substitute for the oversight only parents can provide—even if our kids think it’s a drag.

Here are some tips for helping your family stay safe online, courtesy of Julia Angwin at The Wall Street Journal:

Savvy parents should treat the Internet like an unsupervised playground. Set some rules and then stick around to make sure they’re enforced.

  • No chat rooms
  • Only instant message with people that kids know in real life
  • Immediately report any cyber-bullying (parents should then contact the parents of the perpetrator)
  • Never give out personal information online
  • Use web filtering software


Private Parts in Public Places

17 02 2010

Privacy is no longer a “social norm.” So says Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg also has said that if Facebook were created today, user information would be public by default, much like it is on Twitter.

These comments came during the “Crunchie Awards,” a show organized by popular blog TechCrunch to recognize the most talked-about and noteworthy Internet innovators of the year.

Newly overhauled privacy options on Facebook seem to be headed in that more public direction and Facebook users, notorious for hating change, are howling.

Similar howls were heard after massive re-designs of the social network’s interface in 2008 and 2009.

Many of the users’ arguments could be boiled down to, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

And, the Facebook privacy change is more significant than a simple re-design.

But who’s to say if it’s even reasonable to expect privacy on the Internet?

We’ve all heard the stories of employees being fired due to content placed on their social media pages—pages that are provided free of charge. Excellent example of no privacy on the Internet.

Lack of privacy is becoming more and more prevalent, if not always welcome.

Data collection services provide detailed personal information to anyone with a credit card with a few clicks of the mouse. Visual technology, such as the popular Google Earth service, lets anybody travel anywhere on Earth, often with richly-detailed “street level” views of a specific address.

Before mourning the loss of anonymity, remember that it works in positive ways, as well. For instance, it’s easier to keep in touch with acquaintances, colleagues, and organizations, and form lasting connections. For businesses and organizations, potential customers are more inclined to share and interact with such a group if they feel there is a human on the other end with whom they can form a relationship.

The Internet is becoming one ginormous small town. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. Feels like we’ve come full circle.


EMRs and Privacy. Mutually Exclusive?

12 02 2010

Has your doctor been walking into the exam room with a computer or some sort of electronic gadget instead of the paper-stuffed chart that holds your medical history?

If so, she’s switched to the Electronic Medical Record (EMR), a modern-day version of that paper chart.

An EMR system has a lot of pluses going for it. It links with other electronic systems, allowing the physician to do evidence-based research on the fly, it’s easier to quickly find laboratory and diagnostic testing results that can reduce test duplication and delays in treatments, and it improves the accuracy and reliability of medical records in the patient’s chart.

Great as all this sounds, physicians can identify the drawbacks of widespread access to very personal, highly confidential health information. One study in Massachusetts found that over half of the physicians reported being somewhat or very concerned about the possibility of privacy abuses. Another study among mental health care providers found that over half of the psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and therapists surveyed were uncomfortable recording highly confidential information in an electronic health record.

The HIPAA Privacy Rule exists to protect abuses of a patient’s confidential information by requiring safeguards within the electronic system to protect private health information and by setting limits and conditions on how the information can be used and shared.

This is the challenge of EMRs: to allow appropriate access for health care providers while ensuring that personal health information is secure and safe from the potential for abuse.