Sara's Column: Facebook teen privacy move shady despite company spin

The social networking giant is causing a stir with a recently announced change to how the company handles privacy parameters for teenagers’ accounts.
Oct 17, 2013

Facebook is back in the spotlight about privacy.

Big shocker, there.

This time, the social networking giant is causing a stir with a recently announced change to how the company handles privacy parameters for teenagers’ accounts.

Prior to Wednesday, teenagers aged 13 through 17 could not post publicly.

Now, though, teenagers can choose to share their Facebook posts without privacy restrictions.

“Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard,” according to the news release from Facebook.

While this is a very high-minded justification, color me skeptical.

For one thing, most teenagers that I know are not necessarily using Facebook to help grow their latest charity startup.

Not saying it can’t happen; I’m just saying it’s probably not your typical Facebook fare.

I’m thinking more along the lines of “selfies,” food pics and likely a lot of pop culture references.

But Facebook had to offer some sort of alternative rationale for why they are opening up teenagers to possibly risky situations. They knew there might be a few parents up in arms.

Because in my experience with teenagers, they might be scary savvy with how to use social networking, but they can also be scary naïve when it comes to what they put out there.

And Facebook just gave them the means to lay it out there far and wide.

I’ll hand it to the company; they tried to give it a nice, happy spin. Maybe they should have reined it in a bit, though, for it to seem even slightly plausible.

I might have a modicum more respect for Facebook if they’d simply say, “Yes, we’re making it as easy as possible for you to broadcast every minute detail about yourself because we can then sell those details and make a lot of money.”

And teenagers are prime targets because not only do they spend money, but they are also generally less cautious about what information they’ll reveal.

I’m not trying to say that it’s Facebook’s responsibility to monitor teenagers’ activities online; I’ll be the first to say that it’s parents’ responsibility to not only monitor their children’s activities online but to also teach them how to be smart about what they reveal.

I am saying, though, that Facebook had a safety mechanism in place that, while it didn’t replace parental involvement, it did offer an extra layer of protection. And for the company to deliberately remove that protection in an obvious money-grabbing move speaks volumes about the character of the company’s leadership.

It looks to me like they just put the almighty dollar above teenagers’ safety and privacy.

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