In a new video (which has now been removed), Anonymous or at least an element of the “loose online collective” (how much am I growing to despise that term?) has announced plans for a coordinated attack on Facebook to be launched on the auspicious date (at least here in the UK) of the 5th of November.

The video calls for volunteers to join the assault but does not give any details on planned activity. The video should for now be treated with suspicion. It was posted almost a month ago and yet has not been widely publicised, or publicised at all, on the usual Anonymous channels. The Twitter profiles that appear to be associated are inactive, and in a masterstroke of irony, there’s even a Facebook page for it.

According to the video, Facebook deserves to be “killed” for a number of reasons

1 – They store personal information and do not delete it – “even if you “delete” your account, all your personal info stays on Facebook and can be recovered at any time. Changing the privacy settings to make your Facebook account more “private” is also a delusion. Facebook knows more about you than your family“.

2 – They sell rights of access to your data to external agencies – “Facebook has been selling information to government agencies and giving clandestine access to information security firms so that they can spy on people from all around the world. Some of these so-called whitehat infosec firms are working for authoritarian governments, such as those of Egypt and Syria”

Having set out their reasons, they sign off with the message “We exist without nationality, without religious bias. We have the right to not be surveilled, not be stalked, and not be used for profit. We have the right to not live as slaves.”

Let’s examine these accusations. Firstly data retention; according to Facebook’s own Privacy Policy “When you delete an account, it is permanently deleted from Facebook.” which seems pretty clear cut. There is a later caveat in a section dealing with backup copies of data that states, “Removed and deleted information may persist in backup copies for up to 90 days, but will not be available to others.”

Of course if you have chosen to share information on Facebook and that information has been further shared by your friends or contacts, then you must consider it has passed beyond your control. This is the primary reason why caution should always be uppermost in your mind when posting anything online. On the face of it, point 1 of the Anonymous gripe seems invalid.

Secondly, Facebook sells information to third parties? Again a squint at the Privacy Policy tells us Facebook’s approach to this matter; “We may disclose information pursuant to subpoenas, court orders, or other requests (including criminal and civil matters) if we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law.

This may include respecting requests from jurisdictions outside of the United States where we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law under the local laws in that jurisdiction, apply to users from that jurisdiction, and are consistent with generally accepted international standards.

We may also share information when we have a good faith belief it is necessary to prevent fraud or other illegal activity, to prevent imminent bodily harm, or to protect ourselves and you from people violating our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, courts or other government entities.”

So, without getting into a debate about the rights and wrongs of specific governments around the globe, Facebook is certainly open that they will share information in response to requests from both US and “foreign” jurisdictions under the laws applicable in that jurisdiction. What is the lesson to take from this?

If you are a Facebook user and you consider that your local government or law enforcement may take unwanted interest in your social networking activities then pay very close attention to the information that you disclose, both on your personal profile and in your activities on the website. If you are engaging in activity which your government would rather you didn’t, be aware that a legal or civil request to this social networking provider may well be honoured.

The biggest and most important point though is this. Facebook is voluntary. You join Facebook because you want to. You provide information of your own volition and essentially at your own risk. If Facebook does know more about you than your own family, it is only because you told them.

Conversely, while the social networking provider does provide relatively granular controls over how and who you share your data with, it is certainly my opinion that the default settings on an account are still too open, and the mechanisms for controlling sharing too complex.

Posting information anywhere online is similar to pasting up a notice in a global meeting hall and should be treated in that way. Even if you restrict access to your information to only your friends, you cannot control how that information is further shared by people within your circle of trust.

If you aren’t happy to stand in a crowded shopping centre and repeatedly shout out your telephone number, you shouldn’t be making it available online, anywhere.

However, the thing that bothers me most in the Anonymous announcement is the phrase “One day you will look back on this and realise what we have done here is right, you will thank the rulers of the internet, we are not harming you but saving you“. Joseph Goebbels once said something very similar, “It is the absolute right of the State [the rulers of the internet?] to supervise the formation of public opinion.“.

“For your own good is a persuasive argument that will eventually make a man agree to his own destruction.” – Janet Frame.