With most of us having an account on Facebook, should we be worried about how our data is being used?
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has criticised Facebook in a recent interview, calling it "the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented."
Speaking to Russia Today, the Australian born whistleblower, currently on bail in the UK awaiting extradition to Sweden, cast a stark warning about the amount of data Facebook users post about themselves online. “Here we have the world's most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations and the communications with each other, their relatives".
Assange is wary, or possibly slightly paranoid, about how this data could be used, questioning the relationship between Facebook and the United States Government and claiming that the social networking site, as well as Google and Yahoo, "have built-in interfaces for U.S. intelligence."
Facebook strongly refutes these comments. In a written statement to tech site CNET, a spokesman said that Facebook only complies with its legal obligations, stating that "there has never been a time we have been pressured to turn over data".
Defending the principles of the site further, the spokesperson said "we fight every time we believe the legal process is insufficient. The legal standards for compelling a company to turn over data are determined by the laws of the country, and we respect that standard."
Assange's comments may come as a suprise to those at Facebook, after the company refused to take down the Wikileaks page on the site following the leak of thousands of confidential documents. Facebook's stance was in stark contrast to that of other online organisations, with PayPal blocking the company's accounts.
Interestingly, Facebook's relationship with UK Authorities has also been brought into question by some after the company removed some 50 political protest pages from the site ahead of the Royal Wedding. Many were surprised at the timing of the deletions, and that owners of the profiles were given no warning. When asked about the removal exercise, Facebook has stated that the profiles were deleted as they did not represent a real person and therefore broke the website’s terms. The protest groups have been told they can create a Facebook page instead whereby people can 'like' the page.
It's not the first time that the social networking site has been criticised for its apparent lack of concern for user privacy, with Facebook privacy controls automatically set to assume users want to share as much information about themselves as possible. Users have to actively 'op out' of displaying details and photos, with many unaware of how much information is on display to the world.
Despite these concerns, Facebook continues to expand at a rapid rate, with user numbers doubling since last December as the site becomes available to those across Africa. Facebook is also rumoured to be on course for a jaw dropping $100 billion dollar valuation next year when it goes public. Not bad for something that started as a university project.