A new rumor has been sweeping Facebook — that people are stealing photos of users’ children and posting them to a page called “Infancy.” The status that I saw — which had been shared 600 times back then and more than 3,500 times at the time of writing — claimed that “loads of local kids” were shown, including the author’s own, and demanded the removal of the page. But here’s the deal: The page was automatically generated by Facebook, like this one about rock climbing or this one about food. In fact, above the photographs, it even said, “photos of my friends and infancy.”
How does this work? Facebook sorts through all of the images that you have permission to view, analyzes the descriptions of these images, and serves up anything it deems appropriate. That’s why, on the Infancy page, I saw my friend’s dog – she’d described it as “my baby.”
Because of the differing levels of permission from person to person, the pages are dynamically generated. While you might see your own child and the children of your friends, I wouldn’t be able to (unless I added them). No one is stealing photographs, and no privacy settings are being breached.
And we’d better get used to it, too – Facebook’s new Graph Search, which has been slowly rolling out since the start of the year, will enable users to create search queries that will expose all of these data. Want to see which of your female friends is single and likes “getting laid?” No problem. On the downside, said female might find you by searching for males over the age of 40 who live in the same location as their mother.
But getting back to the Infancy scandal, it gets worse – the auto-generated community page has since been merged with a page called “Babies,” a film by Focus Features. That page is now being hijacked by concerned parents, who bombard it with expletive-ridden wall-posts and comments, demanding the removal of the pictures.
But wait — this isn’t the same page, and it doesn’t contain the pictures that people are talking about. Not that that’s stopping people from complaining. And who merged the page? My money is on the film company itself, desperate to capitalize on this (bad) publicity.
The good news is that if you take responsibility for your data, you can protect yourself. The first step is to pay a visit to your privacy settings on the Facebook site and to see which information you’re sharing with the public. As a bare minimum, set your future posts to be visible only to friends, and limit the audience of your past posts, as well. Once you’ve saved your settings, log out and visit your Timeline – if all goes well, your information will be hidden.
It’s also worth carrying out a Timeline audit – browse through the data that you’ve shared and delete anything that you don’t want people to find. Be sure to unlike any potentially embarrassing pages, too – pretty soon, thanks to Graph Search, people will be able to find you if they search for male fans of Kylie Minogue or for people over 30 who listen to Justin Bieber.
Of course, the safest way to protect yourself is to think before you post and to never share anything that you wouldn’t want to be available in the public domain. Privacy settings or not, the buck stops with you — if you post something inappropriate and it leaves Facebook to join the wider Web, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.
How do you protect yourself online? What privacy settings do you use? Let us know with a comment.
Dane Cobain is a social media specialist for U.K.-based creative agency fst The Group. He’s also a gadget-lover and tech fanatic, as well as an Internet addict.