Embarrassing status updates exposed

LUCY MEYER
Last updated 05:00 30/06/2012
Facebook status shame

REMEMBER: Don't head to Facebook to vent your feelings.

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A new website created by a British teenager highlights the dangers of revealing private information on social networking services.

We Know What You're Doing exposes the comprising status updates of Facebook and Foursquare users who haven't set their accounts to private.

"I'm getting so mad right now I hate my boss Jay I hope he dies better yet I feel like killin him," says Anastasia R, while Thomas L announces that it "feels great to be not hungover for first Friday in ages".

WKWYD's search tool scours Facebook and Foursquare for key words such as "hungover" and "cannabis" and divides the findings into four categories: "Who wants to get fired?", "Who's hungover?", "Who's taking drugs?" and "Who's got a new phone number?".

The so-called "social networking privacy experiment" is the brainchild of 18-year-old web developer Callum Haywood. The British teenager's creation is proving incredibly popular. According to Haywood's Twitter feed, WKWYD attracted over 100,000 people in its first 27 hours.

"I created the website to make people aware of the issues that is created when they post such information on Facebook without any privacy settings enabled," Haywood told CNN. "The people featured on the site are most likely not aware that what they post as 'public' can be seen by absolutely anybody, and that Facebook will happily give away this information to other websites via its Graph API."

While those featured on WKWYD may be surprised to find themselves on the site, the web developer hasn't used any published information that users haven't already revealed publicly.

In a post on its website, computer security site Sophos claims that there's "nothing slimy or hackerish" about Haywood's experiment.

Sophos also argues that the responsibility for potentially damaging status updates lies not with Facebook, but with users. "At the very least, people have got to start paying attention to Facebook's privacy settings."

Social media expert Jenna Price agrees. "You need to be really careful of your online presence because it's your reputation," says the University of Technology Sydney academic. "When you go online and trash your reputation, and you do it yourself, you've only got yourself to blame."

According to the University of Technology academic, the public have been given countless warnings about the dangers of failing to protect their privacy online, but many have failed to heed the warnings. To Price, WKWYD  is using humour deliver an important message. "I think if it draws attention to complete abject stupidity that's a good thing."

WKWYD is not the first site to highlight the risks of oversharing online. Please Rob Me collated public check-ins from social networking services to announce when users would be away from home. Another social media aggregator, Openbook, makes it possible to search public Facebook status updates in real time.

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By contrast to Please Rob Me and Openbook, WKWYD is careful not to reveal too many details about the people it features. Haywood only lists users by their first name and doesn't link to their profiles.

There was some good news today for those who have been caught out by WKWYD. Haywood took to Twitter to announce that he will introduce a new feature tomorrow which will allow anyone featured on the site to request the removal of their post.

To avoid having your private thoughts exposed on WKWYD, Haywood recommends that users head to Facebook's privacy setting "and make sure Control Your default Privacy is not set to 'Public'".

-Sydney Morning Herald

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