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Introduction


Social Networking is a recently found concept on the internet which focuses on building online communities and facilitating communication and networking among people all over the world. Online social networks like Facebook, Friendster, MySpace and many more have created new ways to communicate and share information with people and friends. Social Networking websites are being used regularly by millions of people all over the world today, and now it seems that it will be an enduring part of everyday life.

This wiki specifically focuses on Facebook and uses it as a yardstick to highlight the pros and cons of social networking in today's world. This is so because arguably Facebook is currently the most popular social networking website on the web. Social Networking has also had a deep impact on society, both in the positive and the negative sense. This wiki aims to take a broad-based view of Social Networking with Facebook as a focal point and put together a comprehensive analysis of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Social Networking in today's world.

1. History of Facebook


Originally called thefacebook and located at thefacebook.com, Facebook was founded by former-Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (while at Harvard) who ran it as one of his hobby projects with some financial help from Eduardo Saverin. Within months, Facebook and its core idea spread across the dorm rooms of Harvard where it was very well received. Soon enough, it was extended to Stanford and Yale where it was widely endorsed too.[SocialNet:#1]

Two other Harvard students, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes, joined him to help with the site. When it was officially a national student network phenomenon, Zuckerberg and Moskovitz left Harvard to realise their dreams and run Facebook as a permanent job.[SocialNet:#2] In August 2005, thefacebook was officially called Facebook and the domain facebook.com was bought for a reported US$200,000.[SocialNet:#3]

As of September 2006, the network was extended beyond educational institutions to anyone with a registered email address. The site remains free to join, and makes a profit through advertising revenue. Yahoo and Google are among companies which have expressed interest in a buy-out, with rumoured figures of around $2bn (£975m) being discussed. Mr Zuckerberg has, so far, refused to sell.[SocialNet:#4]

The site's features have continued to develop during 2007. Users can now give gifts to friends, post free classified advertisements and even develop their own applications - graffiti and Scrabble are particularly popular.

But the road to Facebook's popularity was not so smooth. There was a legal case against Facebook that dates back to September 2004, when Divya Narendra, and the brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who founded the social-networking site ConnectU, accused Mr Zuckerberg of copying their ideas and coding. Mr Zuckerberg had worked as a computer programmer for them when they were all at Harvard before Facebook was created. The parties reached a confidential settlement agreement in February, 2008.[SocialNet:#5]

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2. What is Facebook


Facebook [SocialNet:#6] is a privately owned free access social networking site. It opens its membership to anyone who is aged 13 and above and has a valid E-mail address.

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3. Features of Facebook

Facebook allows users to display personal information. There are 4 categories of information a user can provide: basic information, personal information, contact information and education and work. Basic information shows a user's gender, birthday, hometown, relationship status, interested in men or women, looking for friendship, dating or anything else, political views and religious view. Personal information generally shows a user's interest such as a user's activities, favorite musics, favorite movies or anything the user wants to write about himself. Contact information shows information on how to contact the user such as the user's E-mail address, mobile phone number, residential address and website. Education and work shows various college or universities attended and which year he has attended and jobs information. These information can be set public or private from the privacy setting. The privacy setting also determine whether the profile of the user can be viewed by everyone or it is only limited to users from the same network.

Facebook provides many convenient ways for a user to add friends or invite friends to join Facebook. If a user uses hotmail, gmail, AOL, yahoo mail or live.com, he can enter his E-mail address and password and all his contact from his E-mail will be sent a friend request if the contact is also a Facebook member. After that, the user can choose to send E-mail to all his friends who are not Facebook member to join Facebook. Other than that, Facebook also lists a list of Facebook users whom the user may know so that user can add them as friend easily. Also, Facebook facilitates searching of user by name, by E-mail or by network.

In Facebook, interaction between a user and his friends can be done in many ways. There are various applications, networks, groups, photos and news feed.

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3.1 Applications


Facebook has an application directory [SocialNet:#7]. It lists all the applications in Facebook. This page makes easy for users to search and add whichever applications they want. Other than adding applications from the applications directory, users can also add applications which their friends invite or add from their friends' profile. There are many categories of application in Facebook: business, dating, education, food and drink, just for fun, gaming, music, photo, etc. These are some popular applications.

Wall: This is an application added to everyone's profile page. All users' friends can post on their walls. The things to post include messages or comments in text, photos, hyperlinks, any virtual gifts from other applications, "pokes", music and video. A user's wall will function like a big board in his profile page where it display everything which the user's friends posted and news feed and also allow users to write on the board.

Superpoke: Poking in Facebook means an action to another friend. It includes nice actions such as kissing, hugging, waving handshaking to mean actions such as slapping, throwing a cake. There are many more actions as well.

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3.1.1 Networking

In Facebook, users can join a few networks according to the region, school, city and workplace. This networking allows a user to view other users' profile who are in the same network as the user.

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3.1.2 Groups


Groups in Facebook are categorised into business, common interest, entertainment & Arts, Geography, Internet & Technology, Just for Fun, Music, Organizations, Sports & Recreation and Student Groups. By joining groups, users can know more people which have common interests as them, participate in discussion board and post things at the groups' walls.

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3.1.3 Photos

Photos is an application which allows users to upload photo albums and photos. Users can upload unlimited number of photos but each album can only have up to a maximum of 60 photos. For each album, the user can set its privacy setting so that only the user's friends can view that album. For each photo, the user can tag himself or his friends in the photo so that the photo will be posted on the friends' walls. Every user can also add comment on the photos.

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3.1.4 News Feed

News feed is an application launched on 6 September 2006 which appears on user's wall and homepage. In user's homepage, news feed displays "news" of his friends, whereas in users' wall, it displays the user's "news". This "news" includes everything the user posted such as status update, photos and comments and it also the user's activities: which applications he has used, who has he added as friend recently and what are the upcoming events.

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3.2 Platform

Facebook Platform is a software environment for other developers to create applications on Facebook. It was launched in 24th May 2007 and and includes a programming interface (API), a HTML subset called "Facebook Markup Language" (FBML), a JavaScript variation called "Facebook JavaScript" (FBJS) and an SQL-based query language called "Facebook Query Language" (FQL). A lot of applications have been created using the Facebook Platform. By July 2008, there were about 33,000 applications and more than 400,000 registered developers.

There is also a Facebook Developer wiki [SocialNet:#8] which includes various documentation and guides on creating applications.

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4. Reasons for popularity of Facebook


Facebook is known to be the sixth-most visited website in the United States, with more than 50% of its 24 million active users using the facilities on the site on a daily basis.

"We opened Facebook Platform with a belief that community innovation can give people the tools, and the power, to share and communicate in ways that Facebook can't build on its own. We're humbled by what our developer community has accomplished," said Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook. "We're confident that the changes we're presenting today help developers build more meaningful social applications that enable users to share more information." [SocialNet:#9]

With a standardized and simple interface that is easy to modify according to users' personal needs, Facebook has great user appeal. The Facebook interface is perceived by many to have a more elegant look in comparison to tawdry designs of other social networking sites. The user friendliness of the site has made it easy for Facebook users to personalize their display profiles and allow inclusion of the "Extras" function which enables usage of other Facebook applications. These applications allow users to stay updated and connected to people all over the world in any way the users prefer.

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4.1 Stay updated with friends


The successful implementation of a channel of communication is one of the main reasons for the groundswell of popularity Facebook has attained in recent years. Facebook allows people all over the globe to stay connected with their friends, relatives and colleagues in an efficient way through its innumerable functions. This success can also be attributed to the diversity of the many Facebook users and Facebook's options for advertising to these users. The availability of features like writing on walls, commenting on photos of others, etcetera really facilitate communication between friends without regard to where in the world they are situated in and thus, Facebook serves as an excellent medium to stay updated and communicate with friends all over the world.[SocialNet:#10]

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4.2 Networking and reaching out to others


Even though Facebook was initially developed for college students, now its application are rampantly used by professionals, businessmen, and advertisers for commercial purposes in addition to social networking. Facebook offers an excellent platform for the advertising of products through its Fan Pages application. Furthermore, sharing marketing experiences and making business connections is possible due to the various Forums, Groups and Discussions facilities available on Facebook. This provision of services reaches out to a large pool of networkers and hence, further boosts the popularity of the social networking site.[SocialNet:#10]

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4.3 Facebook Applications


Another factor that made a significant contribution in influencing social networkers to use Facebook is the availability of Applications, Groups and the newly launched Facebook Platform.

One of the primary reasons for the popularity of Facebook is the Facebook Photos application. With over 1.5 million photos uploaded daily, one of Facebook's most popular features has been the ability to upload photos. Users can upload unlimited photos from their cell phone or through its Java-based web interface. Facebook is one of the few services to offer an unlimited quota with their only restriction being a 60-photos-per-album limit - this is much appreciated by Facebook's college demographic and greatly add to its popularity quotient. A simple photo uploading process, ability to make it visible only to people with the right credentials and even a feature which enables the user to order prints online greatly enhances the renown of Facebook and makes it a hard to resist proposition. [SocialNet:#11]

Additionally there is the Great Apps program which provides users with the opportunities to access the latest applications and voice out opinions and give feedback. In conjunction with this program, Facebook inaugurated iLike and Causes applications.
Furthermore, 'Facebook Groups' enables like minded people to meet together online and discuss about common hobbies or interests that they have. Surveys have shown that this feature has also been utilized by school and university students for collaborating on various projects by using the group as a closed discussion forum. [SocialNet:#12]

Going a step ahead in enhancing its popular appeal and making it more user-centric and interactive, Facebook has also started offering a free Developers Application Programming Interface (API) called Facebook Developers. This essentially gives anyone access to Facebook's internals and lets programmers create widgets, mashups, tools and projects based around Facebook. This is a very important feature for Facebook since it makes it the first major social network to give access to its API, thereby making its popularity soar above the rest of the social networking sites on the web today. [SocialNet:#11]

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5. Good impact of Facebook on Society

Many argue that Facebook has been a boon for the society and has had a tremendously positive influence. Apart from keeping people connected seamlessly across the world, it also proves to be an excellent platform for networking. Surveys have shown that Facebook also serves as an excellent medium for people who are not extroverts in real life to meet new people and exercise friendship without hesitation over the internet. This really helps minimize, if not remove the barriers between people and ultimately helps in integration of the society.

Nowadays, people are also taking to Facebook groups to help collaborate on group projects and assignments, hence adding a new dimension to the usefulness of Facebook and its positive impact on society. This feature can also be seen extending into the corporate world where employees use similar applications to share documents and files over facebook and hence save on storage space for the company. As mentioned earlier, businessmen nowadays also use Facebook to facilitate their networking process to meet new clients and find new businesses. Discussed below are some of the factors highlighting why Facebook has had a positive impact on today's society and how it has proved to be a tremendously useful tool.

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5.1 Social Aspects

Facebook allows youngster to keep in touch and strengthen relationship with friends and meet new friends. The researchers at the University of Leicester found that Facebook is actually a 'social glue' for university freshers. It is quite difficult for some freshers to adapt to their new social and academic life during the first few weeks of university life. A large number of them use internet to ease this adaptation process. [SocialNet:#13]

Various Facebook features have positive impacts on the society. Users can share their interest, birthday and age. They can also show whether they are single. A finding shows that intensive use of Facebook will result in bridging social capital. Also users with low self-esteem and low satisfaction seemed to gain social capital. This social capital is often believed to bring some positive outcome to the society such as better public health, more efficient financial market and lower crime rate [SocialNet:#14].

There are also a few cases where Facebook is actually used to find people. Casey Anthony used her Facebook account to find her missing 3-year-old daughter [SocialNet:#15]. Police in the UK also used Facebook and MySpace to find the mother of an abandoned baby [SocialNet:#16]. Hence, Facebook is believed to have the potential to be used for finding people or for police to solve some cases.

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5.2 Educational Aspects


Facebook users gain various educational benefits from social networking sites in several subtle, indirect ways. The process of learning depends on the ability of forming networks with different groups of people and social networking sites like Facebook have significantly contributed in maintaining such connections. Facebook stimulates learners to communicate, to have a dialogue with each other and so learners can easily connect and share their experiences and perspectives with each other.

"One reason why many educators do not find the technologies 'useful educational tools' comes from the fact that the teaching paradigm that most teachers use kids being taught - (mostly through lectures) - conflicts with these technologies," reports National School Boards Association. "If you are lecturing, they are mainly an interruption. The technologies become much more useful (and in fact necessary) once the paradigm shifts to 'students teaching themselves' (with guidance)."

"When it's another generation's technology, it's easy to be uncomfortable with it and say we don't need it," said Ann Flynn, the NSBA's director of educational technology. "We want to say to people, explore these things. Figure out what kinds of tools they are. By no means are we saying people shouldn't be safe. But we also don't want to see policies that are so restrictive that the unintended consequence is to keep the technology out of the hands of educators." [SocialNet:#17]

Additionally, youngsters are now able to establish a virtual personal identity for themselves and learn valuable life skills such as decision-making, critical thinking skills and communication strategies. They also develop their ability to build personal relationships and constructively challenge the opinions of others. These skills would prepare them for the challenges they will eventually encounter as adults in the working world. This notion is supported by Christine Greenhow, a learning technologies researcher in the university's College of Education and Human Development and principal investigator of the study.

Quoting Christine Greenhow - "What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today. Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content and thinking about online design and layout. They're also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practicing safe and responsible use of information and technology. The Web sites offer tremendous educational potential." [SocialNet:#18]

However striking the balance between rapport and educational support with distance and formality has become increasingly difficult with the advent of these social networking tools. In such a case, codes of conduct will greatly help in setting the appropriate behaviour online. [SocialNet:#19]

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5.3 Economical Aspects

5.3.1 Business Benefits from Employees' Usage of Facebook


With the growth of popular social networking sites like Facebook, employees spend more time "poking" than working. This usually results in companies issuing stricter guidelines, or even banning it in extreme cases, towards the usage of social networking sites during working hours.

As the whole world is apparently going Web 2.0, it may seemed senseless for employers to have such a reaction. Indeed, they are being rather short-sighted by trashing a new online opportunity like Facebook.

Why is Facebook a boon rather than a bane for businesses? Take storage space, for example. Employees who chat over email and share photographs of their personal lives during work are creating the risk of an information overload in their workplace. The answer lies with Facebook. Just as small firms are giving workers free Gmail accounts to save storage space, allowing employees to send messages and photographs through Facebook could stop workers hoarding data on business systems.

In addition, promoting social networking amongst workers will facilitate their collaboration for more efficient development of products and services. It will also lead to an expansion of workers' knowledge so as to drive constant information. The shortened development time will also accelerate companies' revenue. [SocialNet:#20]

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5.3.2 Business Benefits of Facebook


Customer Acquisition / Retention - rich user profiles and easy discoverability of people to build a social graph enables businesses with an opportunity to find consumers they may have not otherwise discovered. Customer-specific groups can be created easily and content generation is also effortless. The use of Facebook applications (e.g. Facebook Pages) available can help businesses understand consumer behaviour based on the sharing of content and commentary on the social networking site. It is also another potential interception point to build the relationship with your consumer. Customers will be able to get regular updated information of the company, such as promotions, contest and events. [SocialNet:#21]

Technical - because of the simplicity and the commercial availability of social networking, Facebook also offers businesses the following list of technical benefits:
• Offers social computing behind the firewall
• Better protects confidential, internal information
• Follows corporate security and access protocols
• Designed specifically for business purposes
• Integrates easily with other internal systems
• Standardizes social networking for lower IT support costs [SocialNet:#22]

All in all, Facebook provides measurable benefits for businesses in the many forms mentioned. Those who are keen to adapt will have a leading edge over their competitors.

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6. Bad impact and controversies of Facebook on Society

As opposed to how beneficial Facebook has proven to be for the society, there has also been a flip side to this new found concept of social networking over the internet. Infringement of privacy, the threat of online stalking, identity theft and data mining are just some of the concerns which have been expressed by users. There have also been many large scale protests over issues pertaining to Facebook over the years. Some of them will be discussed below.

Apart from the issues of privacy, the negative impacts of Facebook have acquired more extreme and dangerous proportions with the recent development of the concept of e-extremism and terrorism. This ideology advocates the formation and propagation of hate groups which might be harmful to sentiments of other people and communities. These cons of social networking and Facebook are really an issue of grave concern in today's ICT dominated world and need to be addressed quickly and effectively before they snowball into a major problem threatening the very existence of social networking. Some of these issues are italicized below.

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6.1 Controversies Over Facebook

6.1.1 Protest against Facebook 1


On 5th September 2006, Facebook unfolded two new features; Newsfeed and Mini-Feed. [SocialNet:#23] NewsFeed reports on what is happening in the user's social circle on Facebook. NewsFeed automatically updates a personalised list of news stories throughout the day to update the users on their friend's activities. Examples include what their friends are interested in lately and even their friend's current relationship status. Mini-Feed is similar to NewsFeed; Mini-feed centres around one person. It shows what has been changed in their profile and the recent contents they have added.

With the introduction of the Newsfeed, it sparked off criticisms from users. Many users launched a series of spontaneous protests and claimed that this feature violates user privacy. More than 500,000 of these users have signed an online petition calling on Facebook to do away with NewsFeed and that users should have control over the information that is published on members' page. [SocialNet:#24] However, this has done little impact on Facebook as the protest was held at a time when college students are returning back to their studies after their summer holidays where there will be an increase in new subscribers. Site founder Mark Zuckerberg answered to these protest by writing a message to notify protesters that he knows that many people are unhappy with the new features, and advice protesters to calm down. "We agree, stalking isn't cool; but being able to know what's going on in your friends' lives is... Nothing you do is being broadcast; rather, it is being shared with people who care about what you do - your friends" he added. [SocialNet:#25]

As for the mini-feed, it faced fewer controversies as members have control over the content that is viewable by others by deleting entries which they prefer to keep private. [SocialNet:#26]

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6.1.2 Protest against Facebook 2

On 6th November 2007, Facebook announced an entirely new advertising solution, 'Beacon'. [SocialNet:#27]


Under Beacon, when Facebook members purchase things from Travelocity.com, TheKnot.com and Fandango, a message is sent to the users' friends to tell them what they are buying. Facebook will announce in the News Feed on all of their friends' pages if a user buys a movie ticket, or even saving a recipe from a certain site. There is an existence of an opt-out box that appears briefly, but it is hard to find. The whole purpose of Beacon is to allow advertisers to show their ads alongside messages on someone's purchase. An example would be an airline or hotel advertisement running alongside a message on someone purchasing from a traveling website. [SocialNet:#28]

This new advertising program started off a second protest on Facebook . In a mere 10 days, more than 50,000 Facebook members signed to an online petition, created by MoveOn.org Civic Action, objecting to this new program. They wanted to be given the option to opt-out from this program with one-click that Facebook didn't allow. [SocialNet:#29]

Facebook claims that the people complaining against the program are a marginal minority and that they will accept the program in time to come. Mark Zuckerberg reason was that the Beacon notices are based on conversations that are already happening between people. As with the first protest whereby 700,000 people protested against the introduction of News Feed, Facebook still did not remove that feature, and users eventually started liking it. Thus, Mark Zuckerberg commented that he will not add a universal opt out to beacon, though many users requested for it.

These complaints may seem like a paradox, as the Facebook generation is known for its eagerness in disclosing their personal life in the internet. Even users, who freely write about their love lives and drunken escapades were protesting.

However, on 29th November 2007, Facebook made a change and said that they will not send messages about users' Internet activities without getting permission from the user each time.[SocialNet:#28]

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6.1.3 Protest against Facebook 3

On 10th September 2008, Facebook moved all of its users to use the new Facebook layout. [SocialNet:#30]

Facebook's new makeover met with strong protest from more than 100 million users of the popular social-networking site. The new Facebook separates users' personal profiles into different areas of the site and provides more tools to make it easier to share information and photos. This change involves shifting users' applications to the bottom of their home page and creates more white space. This move is feared by many that more ads will appear on the site.

Facebook unveiled the makeover in July and let users choose between the new format or keep using the old one. However, this transition period ended on 10/9/08 [SocialNet:#30] when Facebook eliminated the previous version. Users logged on to the site to realise that their information on their personal profiles had been rearranged. According to the Facebook blog written by Mark Slee, product manager for Facebook, "We set out to make Facebook simpler, cleaner, more relevant, and easier to control. With your feedback and participation ... we believe we've gotten to the best Facebook yet."

But many users do not agree with that. Several online petitions are circulating to urge Facebook to give users the choice to have the old format back. One, Petition Against the New Facebook, was launched by Scott Sanders, a student at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, and has more than 1.5 million names. However, there are many other users who find the new format better organised and easier to navigate. [SocialNet:#31]

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg defended by posting on the blog site, explaining that it is hard to support both designs. It requires huge amount of work for their small team and it would also mean doing everything twice if they would to improve on the site's features. Then, neither version would get their full attention. [SocialNet:#32]

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6.2 Bad impact of Facebook on Society

6.2.1 Privacy


Information displayed on Facebook profiles can be accessed by people whom you do not know of. This allows them to easily get close to you in real life, for they know your hobbies and interest. Even for people who you're acquainted with, the data on the Facebook profile page can divulge more information than what they know of you. This leakage of personal information can then result in the following:

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6.2.1.1 Stalking


Stalking can come in two forms, namely, online stalking and physical stalking. Online stalking refers to strangers contacting a person for dubious reasons via means of virtual communication, such as e-mail, Instant Messenging (IM).[SocialNet:#33] On personal profile pages, e-mail addresses and IM addresses could be leaked out. Hence, this allows people to connect to you through the Internet. Knowing more friends may be good, but there is a chance that a pervert or an online stalker is on to you. For example, recently, there has been a case in Singapore where an online pervert has been caught masturbating to secondary school girls through the use of his web camera.[SocialNet:#34] Although it is unknown as to how he got their IM addresses, it is clear that such an act can happen. Physical stalking refers to the act of obsessive following, observing, or contacting of another person, or the obsessive attempt to engage in any of these activities. Since your personal data shown on Facebook can be viewed by strangers, it is possible that a person can hunt you down physically and stalk you with the data from your personal profile page.

As shown in a research done by Ralph Gross and Alessandro Acquisti from  Carnegie Mellon University, it is reviewed that stalking is a major issue and there are many people in CMU at a risk of being stalked.[SocialNet:#35]

Risks               

No of CMU Facebook Profile

Percentage CMU Facebook Profiles

Real-World Stalking

280 (Female)
580 (Male)

15.7 (Female)
21.2 (Male)

Online Stalking

3528

77.7

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6.2.1.2 Identity Theft


Identity theft refers to fraud that involves stealing money or availing other benefits by pretending to be someone else. If a person puts up sufficient information on his/her personal profile page on Facebook, it is possible for someone else to impersonate that person, both in real life and in the virtual world. In fact, many people who are members of networking sites like Facebook are putting too many details about themselves online. Such details include their email addresses, full date of birth, education or workspace, current address, phone number and their maiden name.[SocialNet:#36]

According to a new study released on 15th August 2007 conducted by Sophos (a security company), 72 percent of the respondents using Facebook publicized one or more email address and 84 percent of them actually divulged their full date of birth. This willingness to reveal their personal information on Facebook puts them at a greater risk of identity theft.[SocialNet:#37] For this study, Sophos created a profile page (with minimum information) on Facebook and by sending out friend requests, Sophos was able to gain access to many respondents' personal details, photos and many more.[SocialNet:#37] As reported in BBC news on 22nd July 2007, fraudsters could use these details to steal someone's identity and apply for credit card and benefits.[SocialNet:#38] In addition, it said that people who put their full date of birth on networking sites as well as the names of children or pets are at the risk of divulging passwords as often people would use such information as their password to important accounts, for instance their bank account. In 2007, about 80,000 people in UK were the victims of identity theft at a cost to the economy of £1.5 billion.[SocialNet:#38] According to the payment Association APACS, online banking fraud rose by 4 percent last year to £33.5 million and internet shopping fraud amounted to £155 million.[SocialNet:#36] Each day there are about 100, 000 new users signing up Facebook as reported by Sophos.[SocialNet:#37] This also means there are more consumers signing up to networking sites everyday and chances are that they will put up their personal information that will make them more vulnerable to identity theft.

In near future, Banks will start to adopt a policy of customers when they first register for an account, setting a question to which only they would know the answer as mentioned by Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, one of the leading experts in identity fraud.[SocialNet:#37]

However, Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer stressed that their Facebook's network architecture and privacy controls measures makes it hard for others to get user's personal information and misuse it.[SocialNet:#38]

The public's ignorance of the type of information putting out on networking sites like Facebook is significant and Mr Neil Munroe, external affairs director of Equifax advises the public to limit the amount of information they make available to stop people stealing their identity.[SocialNet:#36]

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6.2.1.3 Data Mining


Facebook launched its popular developer program back in May 2007 for interested developers to create application for facebook. [SocialNet:#39] A study suggests that many of these applications are given far more users' personal information then essential for the application to run, including data of users who did not even sign up for that application.

In order to install an application, the user must first agree to "allow this application to... know who am I and access my information." Users not willing to disclose data on their profile to the application cannot install that application.

"Facebook may...provide developers access to...your name, your profile picture, your gender, your birthday, your hometown location...your current location...your political view, your activities, your interests...your relationship status, your dating interests, your relationship interests, your summer plans, your Facebook user network affiliations, your education history, your work history,...copies of photos in your Facebook Site photo albums...a list of user IDs mapped to your Facebook friends." [SocialNet:#40]

These applications do not actually run on facebook but it runs on servers belonging to the application developers. As part of its terms of service, Facebook makes the developers promise to discard any data they received from Facebook after the application does not need this information.

In a recent project where the top 150 applications are being reviewed, they realize that 8.7% of them didn't need any user's information, 82% used public names(name, network, list of friends) and only 9.3% need private information(Birthday). These results in 90.7% of application are being given more privileges than they need. Moreover, it's not only your own data at risk, but it's your friend's data too. In addition to providing the application developer access to most of your private data, you also agree to allow the developer to access private data on all of your friends too! [SocialNet:#41]

Anyone who knows a little about web programming can write an application. An experiment is conducted out, and it took less than three hours to develop the 'game'. For users who added this 'game', it is found to be collecting personal details of these users, and those of the users' friends, and e-mailing them out of facebook to the developer's inbox. [SocialNet:#42]

Taken from Facebook Platform Application terms of service,

"Before providing any information to any Developer through the Facebook Platform, Facebook requires each Developer to enter into an agreement...which...strictly limits their collection, use, and storage of Facebook Site Information."

"Each application has not been approved, endorsed, or reviewed in any manner by Facebook...we are not responsible for...the privacy practices or other policies of the Developer. YOU USE SUCH DEVELOPER APPLICATIONS AT YOUR OWN RISK."

[SocialNet:#40]

From the above 2 points, it shows that facebook trust their developers to delete non-essential information, and that facebook will take no respnosibility for anything that happens to any user because of a developer application.

In addition, a simple script program can allow people to perpetually retrieve and save all profile information of others from Facebook. With cheaper hard disk drives, a person can store a huge amount of these data. [SocialNet:#43]

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6.2.2 The brave new world of e-extremism and terrorism

There are several Facebook groups that are rapidly gaining popularity as more users are aware of their existence and use them as a medium to express their interests.

Such groups actually possess the capability to bring about a new world of e-extremism and terrorism. As reported on The Economist print edition on 24thJuly 2008, on Facebook [SocialNet:#44], the public can actually join groups like "Belgium Doesn't Exist" or "I Hate Pakistan". These extremely niche networks unite the different types of extremists whose activities are monitored and restricted by many governments.

There are many recent news happenings regarding the terrorists and extremists groups. For instance, radical British Jihadist groups are using Facebook to recruit members and distribute extremist literature. It was reported on the Sunday of Scotland online [SocialNet:#45] that a private Facebook group called Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama'ah, an organisation closely linked to the banned extremist group Al Muhajiroun, has been operating since early 2007. The Facebook group has links posted on extremist literature by the jailed radical preachers Abu Hamza al-Misri and Abu Qutada invoking the waging of the armed jihad against the British and American governments. There is also literature demanding the expulsion of any Muslim who votes in elections or "provides assistance" to the 'kuffar', or non-believer. The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain warned young Muslims to stay away from the extremist websites and commented that "It is a dangerous area."

In another case, Facebook groups were used to spread hate for the operation of the A1 Muhajiroun extremist group^[SocialNet:#46]^. In fact the group members of the former group include British students and also employees at reputable financial services company such as Citigroup. The group posted links to extreme ideologies written by jailed authors. Such writings are classified as hate speech and such speeches are not protected by freedom of speech as it instigates violence.

As reported recently on Today newspaper on 17thOctober 2008 [SocialNet:#47], social networking sites like Facebook provide their services free of charge and they rely on advertisements for income. They do not hold records of the users who have the liberty to keep pseudonyms. Criminals could use a chat facility but people cannot actually get hold of the data. In this way, criminal terrorists are actually exploiting free social networking sites, as no one will actually know their true identity and they can actually sign up as many accounts as they want with any random names. This 'weakness' of Facebook will instigate more of such groups to continue to grow. In near future, as announced by Ms Jacqui Smith, the British Home secretary in a speech on international terrorism, the governments may give the police, security and intelligence agencies new powers to access personal information held by these communication providers including social network sites like Facebook to circumvent the threats posed by this issue if it becomes more wide scale.

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6.2.3 Economy

A report states that employees are more likely to be spending too much time on the social networking site Facebook, rather than on work. Polls shows that 52% of office workers spend a large portion of their day logging on and browsing, and possibly not 'maximising their full office potential'. [SocialNet:#48] Richard Cullen of SurfControl, an internet filtering company, estimates the site may be costing Australian businesses $5 billion a year. "Our analysis shows that Facebook is the new, and costly, time-waster" he said.

However, Facebook becomes dormant at evenings and weekends because most of the people are meeting the others they had arranged drinks with during the (working) day. [SocialNet:#49]

The report calculates that if an employee spends an hour each day on Facebook, it costs the company more than $6200 a year.[SocialNet:#50] As it is hard to tell if a person is on a social-networking site when he/she sitting at a computer, some companies have decided to ban such sites to keep their workers focus on their work instead of being unproductive to the company. [SocialNet:#51]

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7. Comparison of Facebook to other social networking sites


Unlike Friendster and MySpace, Facebook has a "Marketplace" function, which allows its users to showcase the items they want to sell. Once an item is listed on the site, the item will be featured in the user's selected networks, making it visible to everyone. This saves users the trouble of going to eBay or Yahoo! Auctions to sell their items online. Furthermore, Facebook allows you to advertise your listings to other networks. It costs only US$1 for every 500 members per network to advertise your listing. Imagine the chain effect from just using US$1!
[SocialNet:#52]
Compared to Facebook, Friendster definitely allows more creativity on users' profile pages. Friendster permits the use of CSS and scripts in profile pages. For those who don't know CSS, Friendster also offers numerous themed templates to choose from. Auto-play videos and music can be added in Friendster, and personal pictures or graphic designs can be used as profile backgrounds. On the contrary, the most you can do with a Facebook profile is to post small graphics, videos, and quiz results through Applications, which makes Facebook profile pages that much plainer and boring.
However, Facebook's simple layout makes site navigation easier and more comfortable. The size of the font, headers and graphics are just right, the colors are comfortable for the eyes, and the uniformity of the layout makes it user-friendly and intuitive. Uploading applications is also easier and quicker in Facebook compared to Friendster. However, the trouble with this ease-of-use is that Facebook users in turn, load their profiles with tons of applications which only make their profiles messy and slower to download.

Facebook doesn't have any random and annoying advertisements. Unlike Friendster, which automatically posts ads from sponsors on your personal profile, Facebook only puts a neat and permanent link on your profile, labeled "Marketplace", which directs you to a dedicated site in Facebook for advertisements from Facebook users and sponsors.

Both Friendster and Facebook have customizable privacy settings, and allow their users to choose what profile visitors can and cannot see. However, Facebook is stricter when it comes to privacy, as full viewing of profiles is restricted to 1st-degree friends only; whereas Friendster allows anyone, including non-registered Friendster browsers, to explore and view all "open" profiles.

Friendster has its own blog-builder for its users which works like and just as customisable as any other weblog publishing site. The Friendster blog is linked to the user profile page and opens up into a separate window when accessed. Facebook, on the other hand, only allows users to post links to their external weblogs on their Facebook profiles.[SocialNet:#53]

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8. Future of Social Networking Sites


Although the emergence of another new mega social networking site like Facebook may seem unlikely, experts believe that the next major wave in social networking will come in the form of sites called vertical sites - sites that tie people together into a community where they can share their interests and passions. As these sites becomes more interest specific, special-interest magazines will benefit as their target audience congregate at these sites. These magazines will thus be able to serve its community more effectively. [SocialNet:#54]

In the future, membership in an online social network will become more of a commonplace than traditional offline organisations. As such, people will end up paying for the subscriptions, or bearing more online advertisements on these sites. [SocialNet:#55]

Other plausible progression will be the creation of more realistic 3D avatars of our real world self. These avatars will be able to perform real world activities online, for example crossing form one site to another, interact with other avatars and in-person transactions. [SocialNet:#56]

Of course, all of these are just visions of designers and creators of social networking sites and together with these visions are political and technical obstacles to overcome. What is for sure is that in the foreseeable future, a good outlook lies ahead for social networking, especially so for mega sites and online social networking will continue to influence the society as people switch from traditional offline activities to its newer, online counterparts.

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References

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12. iLike Launches Comprehensive Music Application on Facebook Platform. (2007, May 24). Retrieved September 30, 2008.

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15. Reynolds, T. (2008, September 13). Casey Anthony's Facebook. Retrieved October 17, 2008.

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12 Comments

  1. Unknown User (u0807214)

    Hey, i was thinking of including some pictures in our Wiki. Would that be a good idea?
    I mean, even in wikipedia they have some pictures to go along with the text. So, would that be a good idea for our wiki?
    Kindly suggest.

  2. Unknown User (u0806981)

    Yes we should definitely have pictures wherever appropriate, bt can we do that after all the content is up? More organised that way I think.

  3. Unknown User (u0806985)

    yar.. i tot so too

  4. Unknown User (u0806981)

    O wowee. Edwin awesome, this looks wayyy better! We have to write an introduction before the subheadings part right?

    1. Anonymous

      Eyevive

      Thank you for this blog.  Thats all I can say.  You most definitely have made this blog into something thats eye opening and important.  You clearly know so much about the subject, youve covered so many bases.  Great stuff from this part of the internet.  Again, thank you for this blog.            

  5. Unknown User (u0807214)

    yeah looks awesome... nice job edwin!

  6. Unknown User (u0806951)

    I'm soooo touched by our group's effort (big grin)

  7. Unknown User (u0800024)

    oh, I feel like crying. Actually I feel like sleeping more than crying. Then again I feel like crying because I can't sleep. As in I can't get to sleep (sad).

  8. Unknown User (u0806981)

    Haha Hao yang wth? Trying to start up a lively wiki conversation? Here's my attempt -> what feeling does this smiley represent? (wink)

    (big grin) Anyway, this is soo GOOD! Seeyall @ 2.

  9. Unknown User (u0807214)

    i am so proud of our group, seriously i am!
    lol, btw, that smiley looks constipated
    and where are you guys? I am waiting outside our tutorial room.
    Haha, where in Com1 were we supposed to meet?

  10. Unknown User (u0807238)

    Looks good! all GET A's liao

  11. Unknown User (u0807214)

    Thanks (smile)
    lol... I hope we do.