Jason, Freddy and security on social networks: which is scarier?

What level of security breach or scandal will make social networkers more cautious about giving up personal information on Facebook, MySpace, et al? (Full disclosure: my agency represents MySpace Canada.)

Or are people so comfortable and eager to live their lives online that their risk tolerance is minimal to non existent?

Facebook’s Beacon is probably the best litmus test as to how far (or not) a social network can go before people start getting antsy. But with thousands of Facebook applications being downloaded daily, all with the ability to gather information on users, have people accepted the potential privacy issues?

A story from Associated Press today looks at that contradiction and implications, pointing out that nefarious use of personal information by Facebook application developers is randomly, but not constantly, policed by Facebook. It’s basically an honor system (yikes!). The story finds that targeted ads are too invasive for New Yorker Jonathan Gaugler:

“Getting married? Do your registry here!” read one recent ad that showed up. Another on his fiancee’s page was advertising for egg donors for fertility clinics. “Creepy,” Gaugler says.

Maybe a security (software or hardware) company should conduct a comprehensive attitudes and preferences survey that benchmarks people’s risk tolerance for privacy and then tracks those changes over time. Will people become too comfortable until something catastrophic happens? Or do the benefits and sheer momentum of social networking outweigh the potential dangers?

What do you think?

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