Add Facebook to the list of WikiLeaks targets — sort of. In an interview with RT, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says that Facebook, Google, and Yahoo! are all tools for U.S. spy agencies, and that Facebook in particular "is the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented." (See video below.) Assange calls Facebook "the world's most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations and the communications with each other," and claims Facebook may allow the government to gather details without a subpoena. Facebook insists its actions are above board. So do Assange's claims have any merit?
Yes, the government likes Facebook: Assange is just saying "what everyone knows," says John C. Dvorak at PCMag. Facebook and sites like it "are used as intelligence gathering mechanisms by most spy and police agencies around the world." It's easy to get a read on someone from their pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter — and photo sharing accounts like Flickr can tell you a lot about a person, too. Users often don't care about that, but they "should at least be aware that they might be scrutinized based on their online information" — even if it's supposedly private.
"We're being spied on, thanks to Facebook"
No, Assange doesn't know what he's talking about: "I think Julian's been huffing the Reddi-Wip again," says Dan Tynan at ITworld. The truth is that information on Facebook is "extremely incomplete and deeply unreliable." And it's "highly doubtful" that any of the companies he mentioned would hand over private information without some kind of legal order — "let alone build their own little back door for spies to use."
"Is Facebook really 'the most appalling spying machine'?"
These days, what does privacy mean anyway? Unfortunately, "over-sharing" is now the norm everywhere, says Mike Schuster at Minyanville. Personal details like marital status, leisure activities — in fact, "our entire history" — are now "available forever and stamped with a time and location, courtesy of a handy smartphone." So at this point, it's "difficult to delineate what constitutes an invasion of privacy and just a routine Foursquare check-in." But it sure would be nice if "opt-in" checkboxes for such sharing were the norm, too.
"Facebook deemed 'most appalling spying machine ever invented'"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- Why does Fareed Zakaria still have a job?
- 4 simple steaks you can cook in a pan
- Save the world... by changing how you pee
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- 7 common estate-planning mistakes
Subscribe to the Week