Facebook: Watching your every move since 2012

It finally happened.  My mother joined Facebook.  I’m not sure what the current population of planet earth is, but it’s probably around 1.28 billion.  I know this because that’s how many people are currently using Facebook[1].

A few years ago when the company went public, people started complaining about a perceived lack of privacy.  Most people were concerned that the constantly evolving format created a need to always be aware that what you were posting would be directed to the appropriate audience.  What many people hadn’t yet realized was that Facebook had begun mining information at an unprecedented rate.

Sign-in to Facebook today and notice that those shoes you just considered purchasing are now featured prominently on your news feed.  That Google search you just performed has now caused advertisements to display alongside your profile.  It almost seems like Mark Zuckerberg is stalking us.  Taking their data-mining scheme to the next level, Facebook has gone on a spending spree.  They recently purchased popular apps Instagram and Whatsapp.  Those who use these apps have probably noticed that you can login to them using your Facebook information.

As the complaints have increased, Facebook has come up with a proposed solution – the “anonymous login.”  What it will do is allow users to login to third-party apps without giving any personal information to that app.  However, Facebook will still verify your identity, know what app you’ve signed in to, and they’ll know how often you sign in and how much time you spend on that app[2].

It seems that “anonymous” doesn’t really mean what we thought.  Where should the data-mining line be drawn?

[1] http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/resource-how-many-people-use-the-top-social-media/3/

[2] http://mashable.com/2014/05/01/facebooks-anonymous-login-is-evil-genius/

Fired for Facebooking?

Last month The Journal News reported that a member of the Pleasantville (N.Y.) Police Department received harsh discipline as a result of inflammatory statements made on the officer’s personal FaceBook page.  Peter Burns, who reportedly operated under the online pseudonym “Coon Trapper,” made national news after his posts, critical of President Obama, were brought to the attention of local officials.  “The fact that he (Obama) is still alive bewilders me… Go die in a shallow grave you Muslim commie,” reportedly appeared on Coon Trapper’s FaceBook page.  Additionally, it is alleged that the page in question contained racial slurs to describe the President.

The Village board passed a resolution that allows Burns to keep his job on the condition that he serve a 60 day unpaid suspension, forfeit 25 vacation days, and be required to attend sensitivity training.  Mayor Peter Scherer said “These statements undermine confidence in law enforcement, and they cast doubt on the ability of this officer to fulfill his sworn duties in a fair, unbiased manner.”  He went on to say that the Village has no interest in the political beliefs of its employees.

While the digital element sometimes creates confusion, first amendment claims for public employees are not new.  In Tindle v. Caudell a police officer was suspended for offensive off-duty conduct after attending a Halloween party dressed in black face.  The Eighth Circuit rejected the plaintiff’s claim that his conduct was protected under the First Amendment.  They held that, even if his conduct was protected, his expressive rights must be balanced against the interests of the police department.

Although people have been using vulgar and embarrassing phrases to describe politicians since the inception of the democratic process, the advent of social media has amplified conversations that were once considered private.  Should police officers be held to a higher standard than the average citizen for conduct and statements made while off-duty?  Should the fact that the statements were believed to have been protected by online privacy settings make a difference?

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