Friday, December 18, 2009

Facebook's new path to privacy - a call to common sense

A friend of mine asked me recently if I planned to write any fiction. I gave her my standard response: "No, because I couldn't make this stuff up". Seriously, I can't, and I have a pretty active imagination. They say sometimes life just hands you material. I say life always hands you material; you just have to be able to gather it all up. Right now, my basket is overflowing.

First there was the gathering storm of Facebook revamping its privacy controls, which some viewed as a tempest in a teapot. Then came the rollout. Then came the fallout, with cries of outrage ranging far and wide. To prevent this post from becoming nothing more than a collection of linkbait (and it's already hovering dangerously close), if you want a sampling of these cries, just plug "Facebook privacy fiasco" into your favorite search engine and knock yourself out.

The fun, however, was really just beginning. The highlight for many people - I know it was for me - was the revelation that Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's own BMOC, apparently didn't understand the new privacy controls himself, and inadvertently left a bunch of less than flattering photos available to friends of friends of friends of casual acquaintances of total strangers, or something like that. This was followed by stout claims that he really meant to do that, although the hypocrisy of these claims is hard to overlook in view of the fact that Zuckerberg's transparency clouded over shortly after it went massively public. I personally also have to question some of the justifications put forth, certainly in the piece I just referenced:
Bottom line: People don't care about the concept (really an illusion) of privacy nearly as much as other people think they do.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I think they do. Based on the thousands of comments I've seen over the past week, I think I'm right.

I think people do indeed care about their privacy, and more than other people think they do (or at least more than the executives at large internet companies think they do *cough*). What a lot of people don't understand is the difference between the illusion and the reality. In the world of the intarwebs, there is a wide gulf between the two, and for many people "using various Web sites to post personal stuff in a very public way", it is an invisible divide. Out of sight, out of mind. Until something happens which brings the invisible divide into sharp relief.

Among the various opinions being voiced at varying volumes regarding this latest spotlight on the illusion versus the reality of online privacy are calls for action ranging from lynchings to lawsuits. Even the FTC may be getting involved (whether they want to be or not).

What really needs to be happening is a wake up call to common sense. Maybe, with a little luck, that is what's happening, and maybe Facebook is the trumpet sounding (whether they want to be or not). They probably don't want to be the blast that opens a lot of eyes - especially when those eyes are mostly glaring at them with anger - but what's not so good for Facebook could, ultimately, be good for a whole lot of other folks. It certainly will be if it gets a whole lot of folks to finally grok that the "concept" of "privacy" is "really an illusion".

Online privacy is an oxymoron to begin with. I'd like to have that on a bumper sticker. Or a t-shirt. Or both. Anything to help raise awareness that out in cyberspace, the only one who can really safeguard your privacy is YOU.

Might even help a few people avoid getting their insurance canceled.


  1. What I love are the number of kids applying for jobs while in college or just out who don't understand why they get no call backs.

    Uh, Johnny, it's the video of you on MyFaceTube in a drunken brawl at a bar... or the absolute glut of them, that I saw when I just Googled your name.

  2. Yeppers. Not to mention there's already a glut of information out there. What surprises me is that it's still a surprise to so many people, even people who really shouldn't be surprised.

    I have to admit I am perversely pleased by the irony of ranting about online privacy and security via service powered by Google. :)