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The end of privacy

I continue to be stunned by how Facebook and other social media allow me to see things in other people’s lives that should not be seen.

For example, all of my friend’s friends photographs.

This is a feature of Facebook I particularly dislike, and I’m not sure people are even aware of it, although the furore over Facebook’s privacy settings has been well documented.

The feature I’m referring to is the ability to see anyone’s private photographs purely because you are linked to them via someone else.

For example, here’s someone I don’t know:


His name is Mark, and he’s a friend of a friend.

He’s very private and doesn’t share information with me, as is his right.

But here’s Mark at Jeff’s wedding.


I don’t know Jeff either, but this is him and his gorgeous new wife.


Now I could have used many other photos from friends to show how to abuse the system, but will stop there as I already feel I've abused my friends enough by posting these private pictures.

The point is that they are not private though, and not many folks realise that Facebook’s privacy settings change all the time, allowing those you don't want to see you to see you.

Even CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerburg realised how much of an issue this could become when private photos on his Facebook profile were acccessed, such as this one of him and his girlfriend relaxing:


But then, he doesn’t think privacy works or matters anymore, even though his customers' don't agree.

For example, the Mark I don’t know I could just as easily find through LinkedIn or other social media.

And that’s the point: to be found.

But here’s where it gets nasty because, by being so easily accessible, anyone can be found and potentially compromised.

For example, some enterprising Dutch folks created pleaserobme.com a wee while ago:


The site was designed to pick up all location updates on twitter, foursquare and other social networking sites to show when you were not at home.

What better time to rob you?

Equally, I used to illustrate how nasty this could become by talking about a bank employee whose family details were found on Facebook, and the information was used to blackmail her. I stopped telling the story when one bank told me that had happened in reality, mine was fictional, and the criminals had killed her son to get access to the bank. That’s where it gets nasty.

Is there any point to this blog entry?


Bearing in mind that our reckless social world of networking is going to mean that customers will willingly give away name, address, telephone number, birth date, mother’s maiden name, friends, location, habits and more, banks must:

  • Find some other way to authenticate than personal information
  • Educate customers on the dangers of divulging such information and show them how to protect themselves
  • Make clear that where information is made available by a customer through social media that, if this information is used to access their account, then they are liable for any losses

You may say it’s the job of the government or the customer to be aware of this.

Well they’re not.  Nor are the banks.

For example, I regularly cite First Direct as the best bank in Britain who ‘get’ social media.

So I go onto their website and look at the security section, which explains how to keep yourself protected.

Like most banks, they tell you about viruses and firewalls – as in protecting your computer – but nothing about social media and networking – as in protecting your identity.

This is a major oversight in all banks, and it must change and change fast.

After all, over 500 million are using Facebook alone!

p.s. in case you wondered why I picked on First Direct, it is because they are voted Britain’s best bank in regular polls of UK consumers. In addition, their CEO, Matt Colebrook, will be our guest of honour as speaker at the FSClub London on Monday night. More details here, if you want to come along.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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  • Giridhar Nayak

    Read the book from Paul Adams on the real life social network. It points out the flaws in FB social graphs. Check out Diaspora and their attempt to address it.

  • Chris –
    I have read with interest many of your blog posts over the past year and continually lament that I’ve not taken the time to more fully comment and react to them. Your thinking on issues from high frequency trading to payments innovation and now privacy are always very compelling.
    As I commented today on Peter Vander Auwera’s blog post, the “Start of Privacy,” I agree and disagree with you both on the end and the start of privacy. Because I view the issue of privacy differently, I can safely inhabit this ludicrous and noncommital position. We are forced into the sorts of decisions you outline for banks because the Web forces us to manage privacy at the web or presentation layer, rather than in the architecture of the Internet. I should not have to “go to” Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla, Flickr, etc. to manage all of this one site at a time.
    CLOUD (Consortium for Local Ownership and Use of Data) not only advocates a changed view on the ownership of data but is drafting a new language for the Internet to make it possible. We are fortunate to have folks, like Peter, on our strategic advisory board, as well as folks, like Charlie Hoffman, as well. We’ll be putting out a press release this coming week regarding both Peter and Charlie, as well as our other board members.
    Enough of that and back to the topic at hand: privacy. CLOUD’s homepage (www.cloudinc.org) provides four video vignettes on how we approach ME 1.0, WHO I Am™ and WHAT I Am™ to move privacy, security and data back into the hands of individuals.
    Some blog posts worth reading from out site follow. Thanks for putting great thinking like this out on the “web!”
    The WSJ’s Privacy Debate: Moving Beyond the False Trade-Off
    CLOUD Dimensions: WHO, WHAT, WHEN & WHERE
    CLOUD Dimensions: WHERE I Am™
    CLOUD Dimensions: WHEN I Am™
    CLOUD Dimensions: WHO I Am™

  • Herwig Thyssens

    The concepts “privacy” and “technological advance” are often considered as competitors: You must scarify one to assure the other. As with all such debates, people see added value in successfully combining the rival concepts.
    They presume that if you can include privacy in the new technology (social networks/clouds/peer-to-peer, etc) no business case is threatened anymore by public outrage or simple law. You just have to invest in “privacy in design”. Spend more money in the development of the software and all will be well. Regrettably this is not the case.
    The root cause lays in the “why” people find privacy more and more important.
    Does the public care more about privacy as before? Do they resent more that their information is stored by governments and enterprises? The answer on all those questions is no. That is not the root reason.
    The underlying emotion, which increases the privacy-appetite, is simple mistrust. People increasingly mistrust the government and the companies. The Banking crisis and the reaction of the public is a perfect example.
    Mistrust is a new macro-economic trend. It will be a future key challenge for all leaders (public and private). This is next to, for example, the aging of the population or the market share in the East.
    The trust element, and subsequently the privacy aspect, will become a significant part of a brand’s goodwill; especially in the financial and online sectors.
    Privacy will not be simple “implementing the right technology”. It is about (re)gaining the trust of the consumer and proving you do always the right things. Evidence your good intentions.
    This new reality is why ombudsmen become by night public heroes and anybody who just states “trust me” is by definition not trusted.