facebook privacy.

January 21, 2010

I don’t use Facebook so often anymore. I’ll sign in once in a while to check birthdays, relationship status, and messages, but overall, most of Facebook’s functions I handle through other means. It might seem less convenient to check multiple sites, but I’ve found Facebook is now too cluttered with information I don’t care about that it’s faster than sifting through the rubbish.

My decreased interest in Facebook led me to gloss over the most recent changes to their privacy settings. In fact, I fully remember blowing by the announcement because it came up at a bad time. I was looking for some specific information, and not only did the privacy announcement pop up, but it forced me, right then and there to make the changes. It was like a terrible ad I couldn’t get out of. Sure, it was in my interest to actually fix the settings, but I didn’t even know what was changing – given that I wasn’t about to read a whole page on what Facebook thinks about privacy now (and how it’s good for me). For anyone else in the same boat as me, the changes that were made is to give different options about what/who you can share with and making the new default as public instead of friend only, in addition to making some common information open to the public (without any option to hide it).

Hmm…seems like a big deal – removing the option of privacy. Strangely, the Facebook community seems to have been strangely quiet, at least relatively compared to the uproar they made about earliest changes to privacy (and the news feed – which hardly counts as a privacy change). Have the users become complacent sheep? Do they just not care anymore? Have they determined that protesting is useless? I’d suggest that maybe people have moved away from the site like me, but I highly doubt it. Maybe Zuckerberg is right that people have become comfortable sharing more information with more people. But when they don’t get a choice anymore, well, I guess the only option is to get comfortable.

That option is key, whether it’s used or not. If I don’t want to be found by strangers, my only option now is to quit. Facebook points to being able to find friends more easily as the main reason behind making public information and changing their recommendation (aka the default) for the privacy settings. Understandable. Except if you’ve turned on the privacy settings so much that I can’t even find you with a Facebook search, I’m pretty sure you’re not interested in more people finding you. In fact, this article makes two very important points: 1) Facebook needs its users to share information (this is the why) and 2) public-ness can have major costs for some people (and this is the why they shouldn’t).

Personally, I keep a lot of information on Facebook public. I don’t see a whole lot of cost to me for sharing certain information, and I am fully aware that I’m giving Facebook valuable information for pretty much nothing (I’ve been so entrenched in sharing and openness that it hardly occurs to me that maybe I shouldn’t give something away for nothing). To me, the idea of a social networking site is to be able to search through strangers and connect with people you might not in real life. The idea of building community online loses its appeal when I already have to have that connection offline. So the change is logical in terms of what I’ve always seen as Facebook’s original purpose. But just as social norms have changed about sharing online, I think Facebook’s current purpose isn’t about connecting with strangers so much as it’s about staying in touch with people you already have in your personal network.

ps. I think I should have been able to come up with a better title for this post.


One comment

  1. When they unveiled the new privacy settings I remember thinking – what am I setting here? I just see new and old, not hide and make available. At some point, just take off whatever you don’t want others to have or just get off the grid. I don’t know what else to say. It seems there’s nothing we can do to affect this short of a mass exodus.

    wrt your other point – I almost never use the Facebook or Twitter site anymore. I just use apps that take advantage of the API

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