In the early days of social networking, and before Facebook implemented its sophisticated (but much criticised) privacy settings, users of social networking sites were fairly relaxed with the knowledge that everything they posted online could be seen by . . . everyone. Early adopters of social networking sites such as Bebo, Hi5 and Facebook understood that every photo, comment and wall post would be visible to everyone else and it was generally felt that the sheer volume of content would result in this information being effectively invisible - as though the mundaneness of our daily lives was a safeguard from embarrassing photos or wall posts surfacing in later life.
However, as social networking has become more and more mainstream, we have been bombarded with warnings that we must guard our profiles, and absolutely never have them 'fully public'. To cavalierly publicise our daily lives was to invite the cyber criminals lurking within social networks to steal our identities, cyber-bully us or invite 16,000 youths to a party at our house at the weekend.
While these warnings have been heeded by most people, there is another reason why social networking privacy settings (in particular those of Facebook) have come to the fore. It seems that social networking sites are proving their worth in the fight against crime with increasing numbers of crimes being solved by the victims themselves tracking down the crime's perpetrators on Facebook and Bebo, and reporting this information to the police so that they can make an arrest.
In fact, the number of successful convictions made using evidence gained by surfing social networks has risen so much that the National Policing Improvement Agency (NIPA) has decided to incorporate social networking techniques into their training course for police detectives from now on. The course, which is attended by 3,500 detectives annually, is to be overhauled to include techniques to help with 'evidence gathering' on sites like Twitter and Facebook.
With over 600 million users worldwide, and the potential to reach a massive active audience, Facebook is a natural place to turn to when looking for a missing pet, missing person or even a criminal. Even loan companies in America are using the website to track down people who have defaulted on mortgages and loans. Organised crime organisations are using Facebook to communicate, and as with the recent case in Italy, where police caught a suspected Mafioso by using his Facebook contacts to establish his whereabouts, these criminals are far behind the law-abiding public in limiting what people can see about their profiles and activities.
Previously, the police authorities charged with trying to find a missing person or suspect in America or in Europe, were facing a struggle similar to searching for a needle in a haystack. However, locating a Facebook user is far simpler. Police authorities will be further encouraged with knowledge that Facebook records user's login times and IP addresses. If the information is requested by the authorities, Facebook will turn over these details, effectively helping the police to build a picture of where the suspect has been and what they have been doing.
If you're a criminal with a penchant for social networking - you have been warned!