Facebook Privacy Breach – a Cause for Concern?

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Pornography, child safety and hate speech have all figured amongst the issues that Mauritius has endured over the past couple of months. So what is next? On Monday, Facebook was in the limelight for all the wrong reasons yet again. Many users in France encountered a ‘bug’, resulting in the publication of private messages dating back to 2009 on their timeline. Facebook has denied the ‘bug’ and the privacy breach, but it did not stop users reacting and expressing their discontent. The public have queried about the matter and have acknowledged that if it can happen in France, then surely it may happen in Mauritius as well. News on Sunday investigates.

According to statistics, we currently have 323,800 Mauritians on Facebook, 55% of them are males. The age group that is more active is the 18-34 one and comprises 63% of total users based in our country. Facebook’s continued growth in Mauritius is not a prosaic one of devices, applications, and Internet penetration alone. It is about the Mauritian nature and temperament. We are allowed to express whatever we want and find out what people want to tell us. However, what happens to intimate details and personal information we may wish to keep secret?

Facebook's growth as an Internet social-networking site as well as its very existence has faced criticism on a range of issues. Apart from the ever growing health problems, leaks, hacks, scams, security – the long outstanding debate regarding privacy issues has once more surfaced with recent events in France. The messages that surfaced where ‘inbox messages’ and should not have been allowed to be seen by a third party. Users saw old private messages surfacing on their timeline. Facebook denies any privacy breach – but has been called to explain itself to the Government in France, where the panic was first reported.

International research reports claim that privacy is an ever-increasing concern as Facebook and other social media become a more central part of everyday life. There is mounting criticism about the business policies of Facebook. This is primarily due to ongoing application and interface changes, generally enabled by default, which raise substantial concerns over user privacy. Imagine a private conversation between you and another party that got publicised – it may have been an intimate conversation with someone close, a rant about an individual you may despise, or may be who is taking drugs in the locality. No one would like personal information like that to leak out, yet the risks are clearly visible.

We previously witnessed the harm the racist comments of someone recently caused and the short time frame in which the message spread. Furthermore, disturbing pictures of young girls around the island were recently published and how the culprits managed to get their hands on such intimate pictures is still a topic of conversation. But one can surely conclude that our personal information can at any time also become public.

Facebook has been repeatedly criticised for its attitude to privacy, and recently lost a $9.5 million law suit for sharing users’ activity through a service called Beacon, without permission. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has said that expectations of privacy have changed, and Facebook changes – such as the initially unpopular Timeline redesign – have been designed to encourage more sharing producing content that the site can sell adverts against. The Minister of Information and communication Technology, Tassarajen Pillay Chedumbrum recently stated that Facebook will not be banned in the country, but appealed to the public to use the social networking site responsibly. National Computer Board

Contacted by News on Sunday, Suraj Ramgoolam, Chairman of the National Computer Board gave us his insight on the matter. “The event that took place in France should serve as an eye opener for many Facebook users not only in Mauritius but around the world. We need to better protect ourselves and the...
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