Blown To Bits

Facebook in Iran

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

Evgeny Morozov has a scary report at the NPR web site that should serve as a reminder of how hard it now is to keep our various personae separate when our social life is conducted online. I’ll quote, rather than paraphrase, what happened to an Iranian-American woman.

On passing through the immigration control at the airport in Tehran, she was asked by the officers if she has a Facebook account. When she said “no”, the officers pulled up a laptop and searched for her name on Facebook. They found her account and noted down the names of her Facebook friends.

Scary and creepy. But why, exactly? It’s not like the information was rummaged out of her personal papers or extracted by torture. Anyone who uses Facebook much knows that the list of your friends is usually public information. Hundreds of millions of people could have gotten the same information without the woman even being aware that it was happening. This poor woman probably felt that her Iranian identity was separate from her American identity. And the Iranian authorities, who surely have been frustrated by the Internet’s connecting capabilities, have figured out that there is another side to that coin.

Think about it. There is absolutely no reason to think that ANY government would not do the same thing. Nobody needs a search warrant to find out who your “friends” are — they just need your name. Any police officer or boarder guard anywhere in the world could do the same thing. So could any employer or prospective employer, college admissions officer, etc.

Unless, that is, you change Facebook’s default privacy settings. Go to Settings, and select Privacy Settings. On the page that comes up, look under Search Result Content. Uncheck “My Friend List.” There may be a few other boxes you’ll want to uncheck too. Don’t forget to click Save Changes.

One Response to “Facebook in Iran”

  1. Sarah Cortes Says:

    esides being a privacy, surveillance and security issue, I wonder if this could be considered a Data Leakage issue?