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Facebook Issues Aren't About Privacy; They're About Trust

Posted: May 28th, 2010 | Author: | Tags: | 2 Comments »

So the whole Facebook-making-huge-privacy-changes thing has hit the fan. Everybody’s writing about it (I did) now. And suddenly the cool thing to do is to play the contrarian role, with all sorts of “what did you expect?!” articles being written. And they’re not entirely wrong. But they’re not entirely right either.

Here’s the basic premise of most of those articles:

Facebook is a business. It exists to share information — more specifically, the information of its users. In doing so, sometimes users won’t like who gets access. But that’s the nature of the information-sharing business and you’re naive if you don’t get that.

Tough to disagree with, right? And a further point would go on to say that users voluntarily provide that information, knowing full well that it would be shared.

Again, tough to disagree with.

But here’s where that argument loses: users shared that information under certain pretenses. They want to share photos with family and friends. They want to keep in touch with each other when everybody goes away to different colleges, or when “the real world” gets in the way of those day-to-day interactions that used to be possible. And a lot of people wanted to meet complete strangers. That’s all great. And there are varying levels of protection each user can set to share their info with whatever group of people they’re trying to reach.

Link to New York Times story: "Facebook Privacy: A Bewildering Tangle of Options"But every time Facebook messes with its privacy policy, those options get a little more complicated, and the default settings become a little more open (see graphic at the right: it’s a link to a NY Times article on the changes to Facebook’s privacy policy — interesting point: Facebook’s policy is now over 1,000 words longer than the US Constitution). So even if you originally joined and allowed you profile to be viewed by any other member, chances are, you didn’t think was going to be searchable on Google. But as of April, the default account is entirely viewable by anyone with an internet connection (see image below, and click for a link to see the chronology of Facebook’s widening privacy stance.)
BusinessInsider.com: The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook
So here’s the real issue: millions of Facebook users — hundreds of millions, actually — signed on and created a profile — willingly sharing their information the entire time — with the understanding of exactly who was able to access it.

What wasn’t part of this understanding? Well, the thought that Facebook, once a social networking site that shut out anyone without an “.edu” email address, would sell the data to companies and allow outsiders access to valuable marketing data and personal information.
They probably didn’t think that Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, would be quite so cavalier in his use of their information, though apparently he has always known where things are headed, according to this IM conversation from a nineteen Zuckerburg, talking to a friend about his newly designed “Facebook”:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don’t know why.

Zuck: They “trust me”

Zuck: Dumb fucks.

Read more.

People didn’t think about those things. Is it because they’re naive? Perhaps. But it’s also because those things weren’t a part of the original relationship between Facebook and its users. It’s clear that to Facebook, that relationship isn’t nearly as valuable as giving access to outsiders.

The contrarians are right: privacy isn’t the issue. Information was willingly shared. It’s the relationship itself that is the issue; that Facebook, which was designed to facilitate relationships, doesn’t get how big of a trust issue this is makes me think that it’s Mark Zuckerburg who’s naive.

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