Who’s Responsible For Age Verification?

There seems to be a lot of finger-pointing going on about age verification between software and hardware developers. Facebook (and now Tinder) argue that it’s up to the hardware seller to verify a user’s age. (Ben Lovejoy covers this over at 9to5Mac.) In a lot of ways, that makes sense. When you register your iPhone, it should know how old you are. That could give Apple the ability to prevent underage children from downloading dangerous social media apps. Of course, it’s not illegal to have these apps for underage children in every jurisdiction.

Likewise, the seller of these dangerous apps that can harm children should take more responsibility than just finger-pointing at the device manufacturer. There are plenty of ways for Tinder and Facebook to know when they have an underage user. And they, too, should be taking steps to protect these children.

And of course, don’t forget the parents. Some parents will want to grant their children access, and others will want to lock the devices down. In my opinion, the only way we’re going to really solve this problem is if the parents, the hardware and the software people all get together on this. I absolutely would like to see Apple take a more active role in this, but I don’t think it’s solely responsible for the solution.

Three Things You Can Do Today to Increase Your Facebook Privacy

For years I was one of those curmudgeons that refused to use Facebook in any capacity. I’ve been turned around on that a little bit because of the success of the Mac Power Users and Free Agents Facebook groups at creating a safe, fun place to talk about shared interests. They are both special communities. Nevertheless, Facebook can be a dangerous place if you care anything about your privacy.

There’s a lot of questions about Facebook lately and I’ve been receiving a lot of email from listeners on the subject. I should preface this post by saying I am hardly a Facebook power user. I log in to participate in the above two groups, but that’s about it.

Nevertheless, even this limited exposure could get me in trouble because Facebook likes to collect data. Between the news of the last few weeks plus the recent discovery that they can also collect your call and text history, I decided it was time to spend a little bit of time tuning up my own Facebook settings and thought I should share with you. So here are a few things you can do today.

1. Delete All Facebook Applications from your Phone (and iPad).


A lot of the trouble arising from Facebook starts with their mobile applications. The trouble is that your phone has a lot of information about you and Facebook is insatiably hungry for information about you. Moreover, over the years we’ve had plenty of evidence that Facebook hasn’t been a real team player on the iPhone and they’ve done all sorts of dirty tricks to make sure their app is always front and center. This is both creepy, and it kills your battery faster.

I understand for a lot of people this is asking a lot. Their phone is their primary window into Facebook, and if that is really what you want, I don’t begrudge you. However, if you can live without Facebook on your phone, I think you’re better off. I just use Facebook in the browser on my Mac (or the browser on my iPad), and it’s just fine.

2. Audit your Privacy Settings

One thing Facebook has improved over the years is exposing its privacy settings. Years ago it felt like playing a videogame to find your way to the proper screens. Now it’s all combined in your setting screen under the privacy tab. Go through it and make changes to suit your level of comfort. I would recommend erring on the side of caution. You can always go back and make the settings more open if you’re finding that the more conservative settings are getting in the way.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 10.35.09 AM.png

3. Audit your Application Installations

A big part of the recent problems is that the Facebook API is so liberal that apps you authorize are taking a lot more information than you may think. I have not authorized any apps to access my Facebook data and given the limited way in which I use a service; I expect I never will.

You may have some apps that you want to use with Facebook and that is fine but make sure it is your conscious decision to opt in. Take a close look at the apps tab in your Facebook settings and make sure you feel comfortable with every app you’ve authorized to access your data.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 10.56.45 AM.png

Note there is also a setting on this screen, Apps Others Use, to edit the amount of information other people’s applications can use when accessing your Facebook data. I recommend tapping the edit button and making appropriate changes. I leave very little data exposed this way.

Screen Shot 2018-03-26 at 10.45.12 AM.png

Dropping Facebook

I announced (ironically on Twitter) over the weekend that I killed my Facebook account. I’ve had several e-mails from readers asking me to explain my decision. For me it was not a difficult one. I have never been an active Facebook member. While I have connected with several old friends using Facebook, they were not particularly close friends and none of these contacts have resulted in actually meeting a human being or rebuilding some lost close friendship.

My first annoyance with Facebook is the signal-to-noise ratio. It sucks. While I occasionally discovered what happened to so-and-so, more often I was asked to join in Mafia Wars, Farmville, and other time sinks. I felt like it was tedious to go into Facebook and have to make decisions about agreeing to be friends with people I’ve never met and probably never will. At this level it is mere annoyance. What ultimately led me to cancel my account was my privacy concerns.

There are several people exploring Facebook’s privacy policy, or lack thereof. There were two posts in particular that raised my eyebrows by people I respect, Patrick Rhone and Christopher Breen. Looking into this I discovered that despite their words, Facebook does not respect my privacy. In hindsight, I’m not sure how a company that makes its money by sharing people’s personal information can respect my privacy.

At the end of the day, limited usefulness combined with lost privacy made this a simple equation for me and an easy decision. If an old friend want to find me, it is not that difficult. I’m not advocating that everybody abandon Facebook. I just hope that everybody makes their own intelligent decision and doesn’t blindly surrender their own privacy.