Facebook’s Partial Anti-Privacy Retreat

Under entirely justified attack from people who care about preserving what’s left of their privacy online, Facebook is modifying the unilateral changes it recently made in the service — changes that have exposed much more information by default than users have either understood or, in many cases, wanted.

Naturally, the corporate spin has tried to disguise the harsh reality. Under the name of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg we read this blog post, which includes this paragraph:

The number one thing we’ve heard is that there just needs to be a simpler way to control your information. We’ve always offered a lot of controls, but if you find them too hard to use then you won’t feel like you have control. Unless you feel in control, then you won’t be comfortable sharing and our service will be less useful for you. We agree we need to improve this.

It’s impossible for anyone other than Facebook to say if this is the truth; only the company can count the communications it has received from users. I don’t believe this spin, because the criticism I’ve heard has not just been about simpler control. It’s been about the constant encroachments on people’s privacy that Facebook has been making for several years now. As IBM’s Matt McKeon brilliantly illustrated in his visualization, the default settings have exposed vastly more personal information:

facebook in 2005

Facebook 2010

Look at the original visualization to see how profoundly and systematically Facebook has made these encroachments on privacy as the years passed. These were systematic violations of trust.

To be sure, the latest changes will help. They do not go far enough, however, and along with the company’s obfuscation of the issues they only reinforce my strong belief that Facebook has a long, long way to go before it’ll re-earn any of my faith or trust.

I’m still not planning to delete my account entirely. I need to understand what goes on inside Facebook in order to do my work properly. As noted earlier on this blog, I made a pretty drastic change myself a few months back: deleting my account and restarting it in a much-reduced way. For now I’ll stay with this arrangement.

Which reminds me: If you friend me on Facebook, please only do so if you’re an actual friend. If you want to connect with me in a business or professional context, please use LinkedIn.

One thought on “Facebook’s Partial Anti-Privacy Retreat”

  1. I’m finding it more difficult to trust these social networking sites given their lack of privacy concerns. The facebook CEO also seems to have done some shady things in the early days of FB and has showed complete apathy towards the privacy concerns of the users. The lack of privacy is reaching absurd levels in social networking with other sites like Blippy appearing on the scene. Hopefully, facebook makes some changes soon.

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