Facebook Freak-Out!

I am surprised by the level of hysteria over Facebook’s latest privacy changes and security breaches. Here’s why I’m neither upset nor leaving.

Facebook has no social contract with its users. Facebook is a company trying to carve out the largest possible niche on the Internet, by any means necessary. Some companies have a conscience. Don’t expect Facebook to.

Facebook offered the illusion of privacy. Some people mistook this for actual privacy. I suggest that people treat Facebook as if it were completely public. Post only information that you would be okay seeing on any website.

Many other websites expose plenty of your personal information: usernames, IP addresses, avatar (e.g., bulletin boards, listserv archives).

Facebook is not alone in using your posted content to target advertising to you. Yes, Facebook has taken this to a new level, but why does this come as a surprise?

Facebook is still the best way to stay in contact with your friends. If you object to their practices, then post only information you’re comfortable having public.

Facebook pages are incredibly effective for building a relationship with an organization’s constituents. It’s easy to post media, easy for people to express interest, and easy for them to interact with you. In the last couple of months, two individuals raised $2,000 through Causes birthday wishes for a nonprofit I help run. We didn’t solicit the gift. It just happened.

Will a better site come along and displace Facebook? It is more likely to happen now that Facebook is making more information public, which also makes it available to potential competitors. If another site does rise, don’t believe their privacy claims, either!

Image: http://www.civic.moveon.org/facebook/chart/

4 comments

  1. Colin says:

    Regardless of whether Facebook shares more or less information than other sites, there are two reasons why people are “freaking out.”

    First, Facebook’s initial draw for many people was that it was a safe place to socially connect with friends. I could decide who got to see the personal information I shared. I wanted friends to know my favorite music, television shows, movies, and books so that we could discover common interests. Now that Facebook has made so much of the profile public, that privacy is gone. I originally had my hometown listed in my profile. With these latest changes, the name of my hometown became a link to a page about my hometown. What freaked me out was when I went to that new page, there was a “news feed” that automatically posted everyone’s status any time they mentioned the name of that town. That was a step too far for me, as I have no desire for my status updates to be broadcast to random pages all over Facebook. I don’t want the producers of my favorite TV shows to start adding updates to my newsfeed (which began to happen), and I don’t want advertisers to know all of the things I’m interested in, so I’ve deleted all of my interests as well as my hometown and current location. That’s a shame that I can’t share that information with my friends any more without commercial parties and random strangers getting that information too.

    The second thing that has people upset is the way Facebook has gone about making changes. The changes in December and April were touted by FB as making things more flexible for people to adjust their privacy; in reality, their benefit was to make things more public and open. Facebook has deliberately downplayed their real intent while highlighting the relatively minor additional privacy settings. They’re counting on the fact that most people won’t notice or understand the changes to do anything about them. Why wouldn’t that cause people to get upset?

    I agree with you that there isn’t an alternative to FB and that it is still the best way to keep in touch with friends. But that doesn’t mean that people should get scolded for objecting to these latest changes and how they have been implemented and explained (or not) by Facebook.

    The EFF has two good articles to help people understand the most recent changes:
    http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/handy-facebook-english-translator/
    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/how-opt-out-facebook-s-instant-personalization

    A great graphical representation of how Facebook privacy has eroded over time is here: http://mattmckeon.com/facebook-privacy/

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Richard Kassissieh, Stephen Rahn. Stephen Rahn said: RT @kassissieh: New blog post: Facebook Freak-Out! http://www.kassblog.com/2010/05/facebook-freak-out/ […]

  3. admin says:

    I agree with all of this, but I don’t understand why people took the original sales pitch at face value or expected Facebook to be forthcoming about policy changes. U.S. companies, especially in technology, have repeatedly demonstrated that their priority is to serve themselves, and that the concerns of their customers mostly don’t matter (see Apple, Google, Microsoft). I’d add that making the service free only exacerbates this dynamic. Not only are you just the customer, you’re not even a paying customer.

  4. […] Facebook Freak-Out! by Richard Kassissieh […]