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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.
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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."
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.
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