A few weeks ago I noticed that the Facebook status updates of a teenage relative were tagged with her approximate location.
Before I go on, I should disclose that my teenage relatives rarely listen to me when it comes to Facebook. I’ve accepted that they’re still going to post /those/ photos, use /that/ language and write about /that thing that happened last night.
There are few issues I bring to their attention, but this one struck a nerve: Facebook was posting the location of a 17-year-old girl when she updated her status. This somehow wasn’t right.
I noticed she was online and started chatting with her:
“Hey, you should disable the geotagging feature on your Facebook status updates. Everyone can see where you are when you update.”
“Yeah, I’ve tried to take it off, but I can’t.”
Trying to Solve the Problem:
What followed was 60 minutes of she and I, /and my husband/, combing through her privacy settings and trying to figure out how to disable the feature. In the end, the solution turned out to be much more simple than either of us realized:
Facebook, Privacy and Minors:
Aside from the common complaints that Facebook’s privacy settings are unnecessarily (or necessarily, depending on what end of the argument you’re on) complicated, it struck me that the default privacy settings are the default privacy settings regardless of the user’s age.
We treat minors differently in nearly every other aspect of civic life because as a society we’ve decided that until an individual reaches 18 years of age they don’t have the ability to understand the consequences of their actions.
If we’ve decided that a 17-year-old can’t get her ears pierced or a tattoo without parental permission because she isn’t able to understand the consequences of her actions, then why wouldn’t we assume the same in regards to online privacy? While I’m not suggesting parental permission to use Facebook (how would you enforce that?), I am suggesting making it more difficult for minors to share information about themselves, the consequences of which they may not understand.
Make the default privacy settings for anyone under 18 the highest possible. Don’t allow the profiles to be searchable in Google, don’t make the profiles default to public and remove the geolocation option from their profiles.
Of course, this could all be subverted by a 15-year-old, changing their age on Facebook to 19. The proverbial “bed sheet rope out the window” after curfew.