Recently Facebook, one of the most popular websites in the world, has been making the news regarding its privacy policy. There has apparently been concern about confusion over (and lack of understanding of) privacy settings, lack of easy control over information, and the idea that if a user doesn't take all the necessary steps, the user's posts or personal information may end up in a public place.

This is not the first time the giant social networking site has suffered criticism over its policies, but this may be the first time the controversy has garnered so much media attention. Many newspapers and websites have gone so far as to publish directions for making your page more private or even how to delete your account. A few popular users have publically deleted their accounts in protest and Josh Levy, a longtime advocate of the power of social media, has created a site seeking people to pledge to quit Facebook with him. (So far 100 have joined.)

At approximately 400 million users, Facebook has taken only 6 years to become one of the most popular websites in the world. And in truth, it has not become so popular due to a cautious, thought-out approach to privacy - it's CEO Mark Zuckerberg's approach to rolling out new ideas and features has been referred to as aggressively innovative. Indeed, one could argue (as Henry Blodget has in SFGate) that if Facebook were to have given up this approach, it might have quickly fallen by the wayside years ago - that's it's "out there" approaches is part of what has made it popular.

Facebook has, in fact, given some thought to privacy. In 2005 their privacy policy was approximately 1,000 words; at present it is almost 6,000 words (exceeding the United States Constitution minus the amendments). However, it doesn't take much research on the website to discover that the default settings on a profile provide little privacy and in addition provide permission for some content to be published elsewhere on the site. That said, the question a few people (such as Tom Bradly, PCWorld) are asking is: whose responsibility is this lack of privacy? Truthfully, in the age of the internet the concept of privacy in general is rapidly shrinking in spite of measures that anyone might take otherwise. And furthermore, half a million people signed up on Facebook with the intent to share personal information with others over the internet. Then those same people became outraged at the idea that the information might get to places they didn't intend.

This seems to be a constant issue in American society: the question of where corporate or government responsibility ends and personal responsibility begins. Did McDonald's make coffee to hot, or is burning yourself a possible hazard of drinking a hot beverage? Should we be forced to wear seatbelts or should death or disability be the price you pay for choosing not to? The controversy over Facebook and privacy has many issues that could be explored - from dangers of the internet to the hazards of a lack of privacy, from the explosion of social networking on the web to its impact on society. But it seems one of the main issues at hand has to do with the question of responsibility and whose job it is to protect yourself.

photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in San Francisco (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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