x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Drawing the line on privacy

One American University of Sharjah's efforts to emulate Facebook have brought into sharp focus the question of privacy.

The moment when the Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg decided to create a website that compared the looks of the university's students, as depicted recently in the film The Social Network, is considered to be the Big Bang moment for Facebook.

From such humble origins, this unstoppable phenomenon continues to expand and is now home to more than 500 million users. We all live in a Facebook universe.

Imitation, it is often said, is the sincerest form of flattery. As we report today, a student at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) has set up a new website, AUS Facemash, on which visitors can rate the attractiveness of 5,500 fellow students.

Inspired by The Social Network, 20-year-old Mohammed Noor grabbed photos of fellow AUS students from Facebook and posted them individually on his new site. In essence, it is Facebook in reverse.

"I was watching it and I thought that I could probably do that too," said Mr Noor, who goes by the internet moniker Noor Syron. "I had a few complaints but I think most students liked it." The site may have generated 150,000 hits in 40 hours, but the response was certainly not all positive, with many students complaining about an invasion of privacy.

In creating Facebook, the previously unpopular Zuckerberg gained millions of "friends". In working backwards, Mr Noor may have alienated some of his classmates. But in this new world of Facebook, it is also an opportunity for the university, and students themselves, to decide where they draw the line on personal data shared online.