Just a couple Facebook Privacy thoughts I’m willing to share…

I’ve come across a lot of stuff about Facebook Privacy lately– for example, there’s this piece from Read Write Web, “More Web Industry Leaders Quit Facebook, Call for Open Alternative,” which has a ton of links both in the article and in the comments on the “quitting Facebook” trend, and then there’s the often reposted “Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook.” In no particular order, I had a couple of thoughts:

  • There’s something interesting? odd? ironic? well, maybe just something– about how people seem to be rediscovering the privacy issues here a couple of years after the conventional wisdom for sites like Facebook and MySpace is that “kids” were being pretty stupid by putting up stuff that will come back to haunt them later. I realize that part of this new wave is a result of Facebook’s increasingly squishy privacy issues, but some of it also has to be because the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is “grown-ups” who supposedly know better.  And who don’t.
  • The concept/definition of “privacy” is not exactly stable, and this is by far from the first time that it’s been a contentious and potentially interesting issue. Remember Jennicam? Interestingly enough, the Wikipedia page I am linking to here says that Jennifer Ringley, who once pretty much broadcast “everything” out to the web, says she is now “enjoying her privacy.”  And maybe that’s part of what the deal is here too:  a lot of people kind of went a little over-board on the whole Facebook thing and now want to scale back a bit.
  • A lot of the complaints about Facebook seem to forget that it is not a “public space” or a completely free “community asset.”  Sure, they might be kind of asshole-ish as of late with various policies (not to mention just kind of tone-deaf to public critique), but they are a business that is trying to make money.  Part of the way they do that is by using your content; if you don’t like that, then don’t put up your content.
  • On the one hand, I don’t really care that much.  I mean, I’ve already got over 1600 pictures on Flickr all pretty much share-and-share-alike and there’s this and previous blogs; it’s not as if I’m leading that super-private of a life as it is.  And given that folks are okay with Amazon and Netflix making “choices” for you based on stuff you’ve browsed before, I don’t see exactly what is so wrong with Facebook targeting ads at you and treating your pages as if they are not completely private.  On the other hand, all of this dust-up is a reminder that Facebook is a public space, that those updates and pictures and stuff you post really can/will be seen by lots of people.
  • 16 or 15 years ago, I remember going to a talk at BGSU where someone was talking about this newfangled “email” system that was going on campus, and the presenter warned people then of their privacy:  don’t email anything you wouldn’t want to see showing up on a billboard or in the New York Times. That’s probably a little extreme for email nowadays, but words to live by on the book o’ face.

3 thoughts on “Just a couple Facebook Privacy thoughts I’m willing to share…”

  1. Brendan Riley has a good post up on this. While privacy is the issue, the problem is the ever changing terms of service in which people decide to share information under one set of conditions and are then told that their information is subject to a new set of conditions without their consent. (Facebook does make opting out or leaving the system unnecessarily difficult because they know their rewriting of the TOS makes people unhappy.) As Brendan writes, “In no other realm of consumer practice would this be even remotely acceptable: your restaurant can’t change the terms of your transaction without your consent.”

    The difference between Jennicam and your use of Flickr and blogs is that Jennifer Ringley and you choose what’s public and what’s not, and Jennifer Ringley’s ISP, Flickr, nor WordPress step in and forcibly make public that which you chose to be private. Matt McKeon’s “The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook” illustrates the TOS changes Facebook has made. Back when I first started using Facebook, wall posts and photos were by default limited to friends and networks. Now by default they’re open to the whole internet, including those posts I made back in 2005 and 2006 which were posted under the belief that they were restricted to friends and networks.

    It’s not privacy in and of itself that people are upset about but how Facebook’s terms of service bait and switch tactics regarding the levels of privacy under which the information you share exists.

  2. Fair enough, and it is also true that FB probably makes it more difficult than necessary for individuals to change the sharing/privacy settings. I still think that there’s been something of a “snowball” effect here as more and more people have become more concerned about the privacy rules. In that sense, it seems like a lot of the privacy concerns have been more or less recently “discovered” by a lot of FB critics.

  3. I have very little identifiable content up on Facebook because I don’t trust the company to respect the privacy settings it offers to users. I censor myself fairly heavily on Facebook, because I fully expect one day to wake up to the news that Facebook has eliminated all privacy settings and is selling the content to the highest bidder. Never mind that as the creator of the content, I hold copyright, and that if anyone is going to sell it, I’m the only one who has the right to do so. Facebook will find a way to convince itself that it’s perfectly within its rights to sell user-created content, and to hell with international copyright law. I would say that Facebook has the ethics of Enron, but I that would be insulting Enron. The only reason I’m still there is because it’s a way to track down people I used to know.

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