Facebook has become quite the topic of controversy as of late. It's continuing assault on user privacy even made the cover story at Time magazine this week. Some highlights from that article:
- "[T]he site is premised on a contradiction: Facebook is rich in intimate opportunities — you can celebrate your niece's first steps there and mourn the death of a close friend — but the company is making money because you are, on some level, broadcasting those moments online."
"...Facebook keeps finding itself in the crosshairs of intense debates about privacy. It happened in 2007, when the default settings in an initiative called Facebook Beacon sent all your Facebook friends updates about purchases you made on certain third-party sites. Beacon caused an uproar among users — who were automatically enrolled — and occasioned a public apology from Zuckerberg."
"And it is happening again. To quell the latest concerns of users — and of elected officials in the U.S. and abroad — Facebook is getting ready to unveil enhanced privacy controls. The changes are coming on the heels of a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on May 5 by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which takes issue with Facebook's frequent policy changes and tendency to design privacy controls that are, if not deceptive, less than intuitive... The 38-page complaint asks the FTC to compel Facebook to clarify the privacy settings attached to each piece of information we post as well as what happens to that data after we share it.
"In April, the site started giving third-party applications more access to user data. Apps like my beloved Mob Wars used to be allowed to keep your data for only 24 hours; now they can store your info indefinitely — unless you uninstall them. This spring, Facebook also launched something called Instant Personalization, which lets a few sites piggyback onto Facebook user data to create recommendation engines. Once again, as with Beacon, users were automatically enrolled."
I'm assuming that if you're reading this post, then you probably have facebook. Does this alarm you?
If not, then this should. You have almost no private information on facebook anymore. If people want access to your info, then they have it so long as they pay facebook enough for it. It doesn't matter if you only allow friends to see everything and not anyone else, facebook can sell your content. Why? Because they own it, and not you.
For more interesting reading, take a look at the top 10 reasons to delete facebook.
So where does that leave us? Is privacy a virtue in and of itself? Not necessarily. True communion with others is a much higher virtue. Isolation is not a virtue. But facebook provides a false community.
But that desire for community isn't entirely bad. See my post from a year ago about how Twitter is like prayer. We want to be known. We want to know that someone out there really cares. They really care if we stubbed our toe and we posted it on facebook. They really care that our favorite movie is To Kill a Mockingbird. But though the desire is real and good, it is also taken too far. The desire for intimacy with others becomes narcissism on facebook, a perpetual "look at me" game. And you know what? Those third-party companies co-opting facebook's info do care. They care about making money off of you, and they know your favorite books and that you stubbed your toe too.
And this makes facebook a far-from-perfect model of real community. Can it be wielded properly? I still think so. But is my identity and personal knowledge perpetually compromised? I think so. Buyer beware.