Social Network Surveillance

Category: Privacy , Social-Networking

You can't have too many friends is a proverb coined long before Facebook arrived. The fact is, you certainly can have too many friends on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and LinkedIn, especially when you don't know who they really are...

Who is Watching You On Facebook?

Government agencies ranging from the IRS to state and county regulators often start investigations into suspected fraud with a Google search on a person of interest. From there, they access social network traces of the subject's activities and statements. "I got a new Porsche!" posted gleefully online may not jibe with the income reported on your tax return. You might as well shout such incriminating statements into the IRS' voicemail system!

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' agents are under standing orders to try and "friend" applicants for citizenship on social networks, and the applicants' real friends, in hope of eliciting information that will uncover fraudulent citizenship applications.

But you haven't done anything wrong, so you have nothing to hide, right? Maybe not...
Facebook Surveillance

What you put on social networks need only "look bad" to cause you enormous trouble. Insurance fraud investigators - actually, people who are paid to find any excuse to deny a claim or cancel coverage - troll Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social networks looking for evidence to misconstrue.

One woman, allegedly suffering chronic depression, had her insurance canceled because Facebook photos showed her sunning on a beach and dancing. The insurer argued that she couldn't be depressed if she was having a good time. But of course, psychiatrists often prescribe having a good time to alleviate depression. Being seen with aspirin doesn't prove you don't have a headache.

You're Busted!

Potential and current employers use social network surveillance to find discrepancies between employment applications and work histories published on LinkedIn and the like; to learn what employees really think about their employers; and to find some sort of "conduct unbecoming" that can be used to fire someone they don't want to keep.

Lovers and spouses have shot each other over postings on social networks. Private investigators love social networks, which save them lots of shoe leather in tracking a suspected cheater or uncovering attempts to hide assets during a divorce.

Local police probably make greater use of social networking surveillance than any other group. Every week, you can find news reports of petty criminals who bragged about "getting away with it" on Facebook. As an old cop adage says, "We don't catch the smart ones."

The moral of all this is: don't put anything on social networks that you wouldn't want your worst enemy to see! It can and will be used against you. Remember that "friends" and "followers" are just ego-boosting marketing buzzwords that social networks use to entice you into building lots of marketing data that they can sell. Make friends only with people you know in real life, not some avatar who may very well be an auditor. Review your friends and followers periodically and delete those you don't recognize. Use whatever privacy settings are available to restrict access to your social network data to known friends.

Do you have something to say about social network surveillance? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Social Network Surveillance"

Posted by:

Robert Kemper
31 Jan 2011

Just the thing i've been looking for to send to
one of my nephews, who just decided to go with
Facebook. Thanks for the information, Bob Rankin.

Posted by:

Robert Walsh
31 Jan 2011

This is what I post on my Facebook page


Warning--any person and/or institution and/or Agent and/or Agency of any governmental structure including but not limited to the United States Federal Government also using or monitoring/using this website or any of its associated websites, you do NOT have my permission to utilize any of my profile information nor any of the content contained herein including, but not limited to my photos, and/ or the comments made about my photo's or any other "picture" art posted on my profile. You are hereby notified that you are strictly prohibited from disclosing, copying, distributing, disseminating, or taking any other action against me with regard to this profile and the contents herein. The foregoing prohibitions also apply to your employee(s), agent(s), student(s) or any personnel under your direction or control. The contents of this profile are private and legally privileged and confidential information, and the violation of my personal privacy is punishable by law.

Friends: Feel free to copy and paste this disclaimer to your page.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nothing wrong with posting that, but I'm sure the Facebook Terms of Service (which you have accepted by being a member) would take precedence in any court.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2011

50 million morons can't be wrong can they? Just as stupid "who did you go to high school with" who cares? If one really wanted to keep in touch with people you would have. This sort of stuff dumbs people down even further.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2011


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in February, 2004, as a computerized version of the Harvard undergraduate directory, but its instant popularity gave Facebook a life of its own. In fewer than five years, Faceboook was a brilliant market success, and celebrated 600 million users worldwide by 2011.

According to a recent estimate from Social Media Today, 41.6 percent of the US population registered with Facebook.

Zuckerberg, however, soon acquired his critics, who charged Facebook with gross neglect of personal privacy. Users who complained were often directed to obscure Facebook account settings, as though they should have known such user controls existed. Eventually, criticism of the unwieldy Facebook account interface reached such a fever pitch, Zuckerberg redesigned Facebook in 2009 and again in 2010 to provide better protection for personal information.

Despite the improvements, individual Facebook users still have little leverage with Facebook management to bring about other changes. As a treasure chest of data about users, Facebook's sole underlying purpose is gathering and selling our personal information to marketers. At Facebook, concerns about privacy issues are likely to be considered secondary, if not completely out of context.

The cautious few users who understand they are left vulnerable by social networking must struggle to be heard. Most Facebook newbies take the word of their friends about Facebook, and jump in without a care. To encourage that naive trust, many trendy websites actually nudge-- if not demand-- their new users create a Facebook (or other Facebook clone) account.

The vulnerability of these socially networked millions has grown almost exponentially, week by week. Yet, rather than protect their users, Google and Facebook are engaged in a public relations war over how accessible and easy to use their services are-- with seldom a mention of security. As privacy violations mount, users still reluctant to give personal information, face-to-face, to a store clerk are amazed at what a professional criminal can do with Facebook information.

Horror stories inevitably make the rounds-- the damage is not only the theft of funds, but every other personal asset, including credit rating. Identity theft is not simply the discovery a name is fraudulently used by another person, but the legal obligation to pay for goods and services bought by a complete stranger.

It does not stop there-- as early as 2008, reports began to surface of trojans and other malware spread by social networking. According to UK security firm Sophos, a Facebook wall post invited users to click on a "photo", unknowingly downloading malware to their own computers. With today's sophisticated malware, any security breach is far more serious-- one trojan instantly opens the infected system to still others. In this way, many home and office computers join a group of captive, infected computers (a "botnet") owned by gangs of professional criminals operating out of central Europe, and the far East.

Eventually-- like the CB radio fad of the past century-- Facebook will become tiresome, stale and be supplanted by something else. Until that day, the real challenge for both Zuckerberg and Facebook users is awakening to the hazards Facebook invites.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2011

Remember, 'truth is no defense in libel.' Something you may say on a website can get you sued, and there will be plenty of witnesses. Keep your opinions off the record.

Posted by:

Dolphin Pacific
02 Feb 2011

I recommend creating two accounts on FaceBook or MySpace. Use one account exclusively to play your social games. You can collect inane amounts of "friends" to collect your rewards & incentives and reveal absolutely nothing about yourself. The other account you can use for family and "filtered" friends.

Posted by:

Glenn P.
02 Feb 2011

To "Robert Walsh":

Not only will the TOS on the service you use take precedence over your own homespun legalese, dude, but I'm quite sure that you're attempt at to impose legalese in the first place only comes across as "I refuse to respond on the basis that the answer might tend to incriminate me" -- which statement, by the bye, is very  much legalese, too.

In other words, you only draw attention to yourself and cause them to look at you all the more closely.

Good luck!

Posted by:

Glenn P.
02 Feb 2011

This is for "MMcQuown", who wrote:

"Truth is no defense in libel" ????

Where, in God's name, did you find THAT  atrocious piece of misinformation!? Truth most certainly IS  a defense in libel, and a most important defense at that; it's knowing or reckless falsity  that's the killer, especially if there's malice involved.

For heaven's sake, get your facts  straight before you pour drivel into your keyboard! Somebody might actually believe  you!

More Info Here:

Posted by:

03 Feb 2011

Just like I told my stepbrother...

" Don't EVER post anything on facebook you wouldn't want on the evening news, and expect EVERY statement and pic to be watched by your P.O."

"You dont talk about fights, getting pissed off at your old lady or neighbor, bad attitudes or ANYTHING you know you shouldn't be doing. Now that you understand that we can begin."

I believe social networks will force etiquette back into society. Because poor behavior simply doesn't work.

Posted by:

03 Feb 2011

Facebook is public conversation, and there is no expectation of privacy. Nor is there any legal obligation for Facebook to preserve your privacy. In fact, since it's free, there's not even an incentive to provide any privacy. To demand otherwise is the same as expecting the garbage collector to use extraordinary measures to protect your waste contents. Basically, the complainers about Facebook privacy want free maids to pick up their own dirty laundry after them.

Posted by:

Mark B.
08 Feb 2011

While all forms of Internet communication should be protected under the same privacy standards as postal mail, telephone calls, and the like, they are seldom afforded the same privacy protection as their historical brethren.

Assume that everything you post on social networks is being recorded by government. Assume that your emails are being read by government. Assume that your chats are being logged by government. If not the government, then someone with no legitimate right to snoop is snooping.

Use network-limiting settings (friends only). Invite only real-world friends. And never, ever say anything online which could be held against you or construed to be negative.

Until legislation passes requiring specific warrants for the searching of Internet communications, assume that everything you say and do online is being simulcast to that huge LED billboard downtown.

Posted by:

11 Feb 2011

"Truth most certainly IS a defense in libel, and a most important defense at that..."

In many jurisdictions around the world, truth is only part of a defence - it needs to be truth and public interest etc.

Posted by:

11 Feb 2011

@ Robert Walsh

Totally unenforceable drivel.

The absolute bottom line, though, is that nobody actually needs Facebook. We all managed perfectly well without it before, and were it to vanish overnight - fat chance, sadly - we'd manage perfectly well in the future.

And yes, I have used it - not any longer, though, it's just pointless. In terms of communication it does nothing I can't do using email, SMS or even the telephone (remember actually talking to people?). As for playing dumb games, or posting the minutiae of my life, forget it.

Posted by:

22 Oct 2011

Is a good site explaining how to be secure. Granted I'm not fully there yet. Soon may be the more I keep seeing out here.

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