Friends, I wasn’t planning to write about Facebook again this week, I swear. But every other post in my feed reader, every other link I saw on Twitter was about Facebook. Clearly, the world wants to talk about Facebook. You want it, you got it: I bring you the epic Facebook link roundup.
The first Facebook story I read this week was a Wired piece called “Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative ,” Ryan Singel argues that the company is “drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination.” He lodges a series of complaints about Facebook’s steady decrease in privacy:
Facebook thinks that your notions of privacy — meaning your ability to control information about yourself — are just plain old-fashioned … In Facebook’s view, everything (save perhaps your e-mail address) should be public. Funny too about that e-mail address, for Facebook would prefer you to use its e-mail–like system that censors the messages sent between users  … Setting up a decent system for controlling your privacy on a web service shouldn’t be hard. And if multiple blogs are writing posts explaining how to use your privacy system, you can take that as a sign you aren’t treating your users with respect, It means you are coercing them into choices they don’t want using design principles. That’s creepy.
Most of the 250+ comments seem to be in agreement, but there are some adamant Facebook defenders, and they seem to fall into one or both of two camps:
- Facebook does offer a lot of privacy options, and you still have control over your privacy if you take the time and initiative to navigate those options
- Nothing you do on the Internet is private anyway; people complaining about privacy issues on Facebook are stupid, whiny bitches
The second view is pretty much the one taken by Paul Carr on TechCrunch, in an eye-roll-worthy post called “Facebook Breached My Privacy, And Other Things That Whiny, Entitled Dipshits Say .” (I edited out the “NSFW” since it’s perfectly safe unless your workplace bans the word “dipshit” and/or hypocritical screeds that totally miss the point):
Their problem is not that something ended up online, simply that they were unable to keep control of something they willingly shared with at least a portion of the world. And it’s that attitude that needs to change – from one of retroactive bleating about privacy to one of proactive filtering of what we choose to share in the first place.
So, according to Carr, we should never share anything with a portion of the world that we wouldn’t be willing to share with EVERYONE ELSE? The thing is, Facebook persuaded millions of people to share stuff about themselves under the guise of privacy. If Facebook hadn’t promised its users privacy, many of those people wouldn’t be posting pictures and updates in the first place. This is like arguing that you shouldn’t use online banking, even if your bank guarantees security, because they could take that security away at any time, and that would be your problem for willingly posting account information on the Internet. Or arguing that even though your email account is supposed to be secure and encrypted, Google or Yahoo could decide at any time that your email archives should be public, and you’d be shit out of luck—you shouldn’t have been sending all those private emails over the Web. The Web is inherently insecure!
Lest we forget, the offline world is inherently insecure too. Your mail can be intercepted. People can look through your files. You can be filmed or recorded without your knowledge. This is all undesirable, so there are laws to protect us against these breaches of privacy. In the same way, now that so many of our daily interactions are moving online, we should be able to expect reasonable standards of privacy on the Web. We should be protected against such violations. Just because our privacy can be violated doesn’t mean it’s our fault if it is. That’s classic “blaming the victim,” and frankly, it’s an entitled attitude. Maybe Paul Carr has nothing to hide (though I doubt it), but many people don’t have that privilege. What about a woman who doesn’t want her location to be public because she’s been stalked in the past? What about a gay man who lives by necessity in a hostile, homophobic community? Should these people not be allowed to talk about their private lives anywhere, ever?
If the above didn’t make it clear, I think Facebook is basically being a douchebag about privacy. It would be one thing if they were never secure in the first place, but tricking the world into posting all their data online and then selling them out is pretty lame by my standards. But enough about me: Let’s get back to the links.
Last week, Danny Sullivan asked if people realize that by default they are sharing their updates with the world. I wonder too if a lot of users think “everyone” means everyone in their network, as opposed to everyone, literally.
Andrew Goodman takes on Facebook developer network director Ethan Beard’s statement that “Sharing is not inherently a private activity.” “Really??!” he writes, “Ever shared an ice cream cone with your dog? Or a lover? Or a phone conversation with your mother? Or a document with a business partner? In Facebook-speak, these aren’t ‘inherently private’ activities.”
Jason Calacanis says that Facebook is overplaying its hand: “They spend so much time thinking of the ways they can win that they forget all the ways they can lose.” He suggests a boycott. (He’s not the only one, of course. Perez Hilton was calling for a boycott over a year ago! Here’s one link to an organized Facebook protest.)
Liz Gannes says Facebook needs to “find its voice on privacy,” instead of taking a “two-steps-forward, one-step-back approach”: “Facebook’s modus operandi is pushing the boundaries of user expectations, rolling out new features to user outcry, and making minor adjustments and rollbacks while continuing to pursue its lofty visions. … Now the leading narrative in the media is that Facebook is cavalier about privacy … Facebook seems pathologically incapable of laying out a compelling rationale for why less privacy would be a good thing for its users — instead insisting that nothing about their privacy has changed.”
Michael Arrington says Facebook handles user revolts be ignoring them completely: “What do you think the final outcome of this week’s privacy explosion will be? Yep, you may go pound sand.”
Now that we’ve covered some of the problems with Facebook, what to do about it? Here are some posts that propose solutions:
Social Hacking lists eight ways to build a better Facebook, including “Don’t overdo privacy settings” and “Value what your users value.”
Business Insider provides detailed instructions on how to lock down your profile. ReadWriteWeb also points out some of the useful privacy options on Facebook and how to use them. (You may prefer to just deactivate your account—that’s a fast-growing query on Google. What happens when you do that? Facebook shows you pictures of all the people who will miss you!)
Rather than sit around writing posts about what people should do, four “nerds,” according to the New York Times , are doing something about it themselves, building a distributed, open source social network called Diaspora.
What about you?
Are you too addicted to Facebook to even think about leaving? Are the frequent changes starting to get your goat? Or are you enjoying the fruits of decreased privacy and easier access to other people’s information?
Have a good weekend~
Photo credit: daveynin