31 March 2010

Facebook and the (dis)illusion of privacy

There was a time back when Facebook first began that people hyped what it offered over MySpace.  It was a cleaner looking profile, less spam accounts,  and more importantly there was greater control over who could view what...in other words privacy.  Over the last year or so Facebook seems to have forgotten about privacy.  They seem to have forgotten that privacy still matters to a lot of people and that they don't want the entire world to know everything about them.

Last year there was the brouhaha over the major changes that Facebook made to its privacy policy. And while some of the concerns didn't come to pass (such as the terms of service agreement  stating that Facebook would forever own your content [ Facebook's response]) other changes did.

While the focus seemed to be giving users more control over what they shared these controls were more hidden and made it easier to miss something and inadvertently share something with the wrong audience.  Such as this college professor.  Take a look at this post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation where they discuss the good, bad, and ugly of the new privacy terms.  Take a close look at what they say about the privacy settings...and how its more difficult to limit who has access.  While you do have more control over some settings it's an illusion in others.  Look at this quote from them:
Our conclusion? These new "privacy" changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data.
Facebook wants us to share more information, more than we may want to be comfortable with.  Especially in relation to what some "pre-approved" 3rd party websites and applications can do.  For example, if one of your friends accesses or uses their application then that company has access to your information.  Who are these applications/websites?  Don't know, Facebook hasn't released that information to the public yet.

Now some people are probably wondering what's the big deal?  Take a look at your friend list. Our differences define our friendships just as much as what we share in common.  Do you really share everything with all of your Facebook friends? I kinda of doubt it. Then why would you want some company or application to know stuff about you!? You should have the choice to let them get that information.

The biggest problem with these changes is that Facebook is making them the default setting. You have to opt-out of it or hunt through settings to change. This is not how privacy works. The default should be for people to opt-in to sharing more information with companies. People don't join Facebook to connect with products and placement ads, they join to connect with people! If Facebook gives out our information to any company that gives them money, then Facebook is no better than a telemarketer in my opinion, acting as a broker for our personal data. Facebook's motto seems to have become "We're evil, we don't care, deal with it."

Yes, the web is making the world more social and its easier to find things out about people, but YOU get to choose what you want to share. You are allowed to make the decision to post stupid comments on Twitter or upload embarrassing pictures to Flickr. You control what goes out there.

Am I going to delete my Facebook profile right now? No...not just yet.  But I am placing Facebook on warning.  They need to understand that they don't get to dictate privacy...the users do.

For more information on other lapses in privacy/security:
E-mail addresses made public for 30 minutes
Anger towards changes

Settings to check:
here and here

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