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Signal Boosting: China Miéville is being impersonated on Facebook (and Facebook doesn’t care)

I found this blog post this morning via one of my favorite blogs, Making Light. In brief, speculative fiction author China Miéville doesn’t have a Facebook page, but you wouldn’t know it from checking Facebook: there are at least two, possibly more, fake profiles claiming to be him, which people are friending. Miéville has tried contacting Facebook a number of times to get them removed — which is apparently nearly impossible if you don’t have a Facebook account, and he doesn’t want one — but the pages are still there.

This would be one thing if it were something like a fake Twitter account (of which there are plenty), but with all the recent Facebook privacy scandals demonstrating just how much of your personal information you share with people you friend, this is downright scary. And the fact that Facebook doesn’t seem to be doing anything to stop it is even worse.

Now, I don’t have a Facebook account. I did at one point; I signed up when it was first opened to all college students. I never really got into it; I preferred online services that offered richer communication. (No, I will not link to them or even say which ones they are. I have been online in some form or another since 1997, and until the past couple of years I was not thinking about how any of this would look in my professional career, so I am doing my best to keep my online identities segregated.) I deleted my Facebook account last year, through the overly-complicated full delete process rather than the misleading “close account” process which really only closes your account until you log in again, after the third or fourth major Facebook privacy scandal.

As a librarian, I feel obliged to protest Facebook’s extremely low privacy standards and do my best to educate others about them as well. I know that lots of libraries do some outreach and advertising through Facebook, and while I understand it, I can’t support it. Librarians are hugely concerned about privacy, but we jump through all these hoops to keep peoples’ library records private while the information we have about people is negligible compared to what Facebook is releasing all the time. (Most recently, they’re failing to do anything about FarmVille sharing private, personally identifiable information.) I don’t really believe that people don’t care about privacy any more, I think this is just another instance of technology moving faster than human culture can keep up. Unfortunately, if we don’t keep an eye on it, technology might take the choice out of our hands before we can do anything about it.

Choose Privacy

It’s Choose Privacy Week, and I had to haul myself out of the midst of finals and job hunting to post about it. As someone who’s spent a huge chunk of her social life online, starting in middle school, this is a big deal to me.

I deleted my Facebook account earlier this year because their privacy standards were just disgraceful. (Actually, I disabled my Facebook — it took Dan Yoder’s Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook for me to figure out how to delete it, and if that doesn’t bother you a little, it should.) Of course, that was an easy decision for me; I’ve never used Facebook very much. The other online service I can imagine having to quite for privacy reasons would be Google, and that would be a huge production. I’m not worried about Google yet, but I might be some time in the future.

By the time I was in college, I was constantly getting advice about what I should and shouldn’t allow to exist about me online. Your future employers can find you, I was told. Don’t post anything online you wouldn’t want your employer to know about. This is, to someone who’s grown up online, ridiculous. It was ridiculous to me, and it’s even more ridiculous to kids who are in high school and college now, when half of their lives or more are online and they can’t imagine their lives without it. And yet, somehow, the solution is to control your own information rather than to expect the people who promised your information would be secure to keep it that way. (Obligatory xkcd reference: 137. Warning, foul but justified language.)

I have more than one online identity; I’ve always used a pseudonym and it’s only in grad school that I’ve started putting my real name out there. The two are as disconnected as I can make them, and while I’m sure someone could connect the two if they really, really wanted, I’m reasonably comfortable with the way things are right now. I would not be comfortable if my multiple online identities came crashing in to one another. I have posted nothing online that I’m ashamed of, and nothing that should jeopardize my professional reputation or job chances — but there’s still a gap between should and could, and I have posted things that fall into that gap.

My favorite piece on this topic I’ve seen recently is this paper by dana boyd from this year’s SXSW conference. “No matter how many times a privileged straight white male technology executive pronounces the death of privacy,” she says, “Privacy Is Not Dead.” I can’t help but think that the “privileged straight white male” part of that sentence might be the most important part. Some people have something to lose through no fault of their own. They, too, should be able to use the Internet and social media to connect with their friends and family, to form communities, to explore identities without sacrificing their jobs, reputations, and sometimes their safety. It’s important to hold companies like Facebook responsible for their privacy policies — and privacy violations — and make sure that they understand that we won’t stand for it forever.

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