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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Online stalking nothing new

Published: September 8, 2006
Section: Opinions

Much has been said about the recent explosion of social networking sites. Many have fully embraced popular websites like MySpace, Facebook and LiveJournal, while many people have expressed disdain. Even last week, Hoot columnist Leah Berkenwald warned of the risks of posting private information that could effect future employment. As for myself, I have had mixed feelings about how much information should be shared online for random people to see. The recent News Feed format (started on Tuesday) that Facebook has employed has many saying it crossed the line into stalker territory. While the new system is quite obviously an uncomforting idea for many students, the ability to learn a lot of the same information has been available for quite some time now.
This past Tuesday may turn into a landmark day in the history of the Internet. Facebook users can now see literally every action their friends and, perhaps more scarily, people they will never meet take. I used to think that college students who chose not to join the Facebook were just being overly paranoid and afraid of technology. It could have even been for political reasons. However, now when I add that I am a fan of the Asian Chicken Wrap or the band Styx or a friend changes their relationship status, we are all informed in real time. A place to put information about myself has now turned into an almost CNN-like news ticker for the whole world to see. And to tell you the truth, half the time I dont even really care if Joe Schmoe adds Yoni Shapiro as a friend. The battle lines have quickly been drawn as thousands of students joined Facebook groups in protest and in support of the new features within hours of their implementation. Students have even organized a boycott set for September 12th with Facebook administrators declaring that the new features are here to stay.
I thought the News Feed was some CNN type thing where I could read the news while surfing my favorite social networking site. Upon reading the description, I was flabbergasted to find that this news was essentially stalker information, although now I can tell if my many crushes are single, said Josh Weinstein 08.
Under the new system, friends of friends who are not invited to events are now notified, and can even request an invitation to the event. This only seems to add unnecessary drama. Secondly, if users do heed Berkenwalds warnings and attempt to delete incriminating tagged photos of themselves, the entire Facebook world may have already been notified of their existence before the users themselves.
However, the idea of being able to monitor every micro-move a person makes on Facebook is not something new and should not seem as shocking as it has been. There have been numerous warnings about potential security problems in the past. One website,, is a free extension for Firefox that tracks and highlights changes in your friends profiles on the popular social networking website Facebook while the program saves copies of each page to compare to the subsequent updated profiles. Thus, each time a profile is changed, a user with Facebook Stalker could have seen these changes. Other tools, such as inYOfacebook, have allowed any user to see an enlarged picture of a persons profile without even attending their school. Another tool allows users that have another persons AOL Instant Messenger screen name to view that persons Facebook profile.
Another downloadable feature called Link View gives people the ability to track a users IP address (and even physical location on Google Maps) with many popular social networking sites including the Facebook. Friendster has already incorporated a feature that allows users to see who is viewing their profiles, while there are multiple ways of viewing MySpace without a profile. In fact, several years ago Friendster did a similar poorly-received experiment by having announcements of friends activities sent out to individual e-mail addresses.
LiveJournal has also had issues with security as of late that might even be considered worse. Even friends-only entries can be readable. Popular websites like allow anyone to search any blog or journal on the internet. Often times, the friends-only pages are viewable through the websites search pages or are viewable as cache pages. In this case, were talking about seeing things that the user has pointedly tried to keep private.
The best way to remedy this situation on Facebook is probably to have a limited, invisible or customized profile. Yet limiting profile information and blocking access to non-friends can be quite time consuming (as limiting profiles can only be done for individuals) and blocking access makes meeting new friends more difficult. Facebook administrators claim that they are working on tweaking current problems, but the Feed system will remain.
In the past few days, Im sure my sentiments have been discussed and echoed by many other college students. Many have claimed that there is a difference between knowing someones interests and knowing his or her every waking, inconsequential move. I suppose I could now easily find the people who are making these claims since nearly everything else is public. Yet the point must be made that this is not the first instance where you are being watched ever so closely on the popular social networking site.