Facebook and the Illusion of Privacy

The Facebook Backlash

There has been a lot of negative press for Facebook lately over privacy concerns. This is not the first time Facebook has made changes that have resulted in people throwing a fit, and/or starting petitions for Facebook to undo their changes.

This time it is different. Facebook's changes to how you set your privacy are a lot more important than simple tweaks to the user interface. The problem for Facebook is that their brand was built on the ability to post things privately and/or share content with a limited number of your friends.

It is still possible to share with a limited network of people and keep things private, the problem is that it is an especially difficult process to understand for most.

I listen to and read a lot of tech pundits like Leo Laporte, Jon Dvorak and Jason Calacanis. This is the first time I have heard them be this concerned about the gravity of the changes that Facebook has made. Laporte is deleting his Facebook account even though he has thousands of friends and fans through the service. Calacanis sent out a scathing email about the underhanded practices of Facebook and it's founder Mark Zuckerberg. He even warns his readers not to get "Zucked" by the founder.

The Options

Facebook is simultaneously making moves to cement itself as the social network of choice, while at the same time opening up cracks to competitiors.

The problem is that there are no real comptitors to Facebook. MySpace just announced they are making their members' data more private, but they have the branding problem of being yesterday's social network. The only way Facebook will truly lose members is if there is a viable competitor that offers the functionality and connectedness of Facebook along with legitimate privacy functions.

Or you can go nuclear and delete your account alltogether.

Why Did Facebook Do This?

Some postulate that Zuckerberg is an egomaniac who likes to tinker with his creation. Others say he is jealous of Twitter and wants to be like them. But I argue for the simplest explanation: it makes Facebook more money. The more data that is available publicly and to Facebook the more they can sell this information to advertisers.

Privacy on the Web

So is it safe to be on Facebook? It depends. I think you have to understand that anything you post on Facebook could be seen publicly.

But is this just an issue with Facebook?

You are naive if you think anything you post will only and ever be seen by your intended audience. You have to assume anything you write can be seen publicly.

Think of the scandals that have broken over leaked internal emails and IM messages:.Enron, Microsoft and Facebook have all had internal communications leaked to the public.

Before that paper memos were released. The tobacco industries paid billions of dollars in damages based on leaked internal documents.

I worked at a company where several people were suspended for using Instant Messenger to send personal messages. Every email, and everything you do at work can be monitored to the pixel.

Little Brother is Watching

While big brother may be watching you at work, little brother is watching you everywhere else. The majority of the people around you have camera phones and are capable of taking pictures and/or videos of you at any time with or without your knowledge.

You think Michael Richards gave permission for his outburst to be posted on YouTube?

Everyone around you can watch you and broadcast your actions to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and any other outlet they choose without your permission.

The Google Goggles mobile application allows the user to point at any object and do a visual search. It comes in pretty handy when you are at the bookstore and want to compare prices. Just snap a picture of the cover and Google goes to work telling you all there is to know about the product and the best price available.

Oh by the way it can also recognize faces. Anyone with this application can snap a picture of you and pull up all sorts of juicy tidbits about you. Technically the feature has been disabled in fear of people freaking out, but it has the capability and it is only a matter of time before it is activated.

Don't Assume Anything is Private

I am not too concerned with Facebook's privacy changes. I always assume that what I post is/or could be made public. In fact I purposely make my Facebook profile public so I know not to post private things there.

I'm not the typical user. I try to get my name and content found in search results. But I do think it is the right mindset to have for any user. You never know when Facebook is going to flip a switch, you forget to flip a switch, or a bug in the system makes everything public.

Facebook's Contribution

Facebook has actually done us a service by shining a light on the privacy issue. This is not a Facebook issue, this is something our society has to deal with today. Facebook is calling a serious issue to the attention of the mainstream public.

Personal Responsibility

I had a friend who was complaining on her Facebook wall that the people she worked with were stupid. I asked if anyone at her office had a Facebook account because she might not want to post such comments. She thanked me and said she had not thought about it.

I agree it is unfair for a service to promise privacy and then make your content public, but at some point we have to take responsibility for our actions and understand the world we live in.

Do you see yourself altering your behavior on Facebook or any other medium based on what's been happening?

Facebook's Foibles in the News (courtesy of Jason Calacanis)

Facebook's Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline

Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook

Yet another Facebook privacy risk: emails Facebook sends leak user IP address

A Stunning Infographic on Facebook's scary privacy evolution

Facebook’s “Posts By Everyone” Feature: Do People Realize They’re
Sharing To The World?

Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative | Epicenter |

Senators Call Out Facebook On ‘Instant Personalization’, Other Privacy Issues

Facebook's email days: "I'm CEO bith@#$%!"

Facebook's new features secretly add apps to your profile

The Day Facebook Stole My Page

Facebook is Dying - Social is Not

Facebook's "Evil Interfaces" | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Facebook

Facebook: What You Probably Didn't Know
[Source: Online PhD Programs for MashableMashableMashable.com]