New Facebook Privacy Tools: A Cunning Ruse?

Everybody is mad at Facebook for destroying privacy all the way across the Internet. Here’s the thing though, they’ve recently had this meeting, right? You’ve probably heard about it. Only two things appear to have come out of this meeting so far, and neither address the issue at hand.

In essence, the two new tools described here allow you to give specific devices (your phone, work computer, and home computer for instance) the authority to log-in to your Facebook account. While this is fantastic for account hacking prevention, and are therefore important for privacy, they’re barely related to the reasons an angry mob has formed at Facebook’s gates.

My rant after the jump.

People are actually concerned about the lack of granular control over who gets to see the information you willingly publish to Facebook. YourOpenBook.org is a particularly (and intentionally) impressive example of just how easily this lack of control is exploited – in this case, for the amusement of others.

Personally, I have a very open and transparent profile – and I like it that way. I don’t entirely understand the people who are happy to publish any old embarrassing nonsense to an unprotected Twitter stream, and then complain that Facebook is sharing their information. However, that’s my decision, and it’s lucky that my decision is aligned with Facebook’s way of doing things, or I’d probably be one of the many members of the angry mob.

So the question here is – why isn’t Facebook dealing with the issue at hand? Probably because the more that people lock down their personal information, likes and… oh wait, no dislike button. Right, well, the more information that’s locked down the less of it they can sell to business partners, and the more difficult it becomes for advertisers to target specific audiences. Essentially making the free service less useful for the people that are actually giving it money.

There could be ways around this – allowing privacy controls that mean individuals cannot see X info, while still allowing the information to be seen internally by their targeted advertising systems for instance… but how long until people demand they lock down that as well? And then what do they do? It’s far more profitable for them to keep everyone’s profile as open as possible.

Obviously, they need to find a happy medium of some kind and they’re hoping that the announcement of these new options will do it. The thing that really gets me here though, is the implied assumption that their users are stupid.

By releasing a set of tools that solve a less significant issue in the minds of many, they seem to be hoping that people will forget about their other, larger, more vehement complaints. I’m barely even interested in the power to lock off my profile, and I’m offended so I can’t even begin to imagine how some of the people that are already angry must feel. Maybe the use of the word “cunning” in the title was a bit over the top, but hey, Randal Graves is awesome.

So here’s hoping that there’s more to come out of this “emergency privacy meeting” that simply hasn’t been announced yet. Facebook have to address the issues eventually, or something like Diaspora (which will be another post altogether) is going to steal their masses.

@tali3sin

P.S. Just to top it all off, here’s a Facebook like button for you to press 😉

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9 Responses to New Facebook Privacy Tools: A Cunning Ruse?

  1. Beaney says:

    Awesome post, Paul.

    I agree it’s very much the old “LOOKOVERHEREOMGDISTRACTION” ruse.

    Facebook is all “We’re protecting your privacy by stopping hackers, but allowing everyone on the Internet to know you went to a strip club last night” (highlighted by the awesome YourOpenBook.org. ;))

    However, I wonder how many of the average users even know that Facebook has changed their settings so that everything is now public?

    In Social Media a lot of people are heatedly debating about these changes (and whether or not it’s the user’s responsibility, or Facebook’s, to maintain privacy) but if the average user has any idea about it, I’d be very surprised.

    Does the average user know that their updates and info is public? Do they care? Is it possible that people who are trying to protect their online reputation already self-censor? And maybe for everyone else it’s simply a case of putting-their-foot-in-it?

    I’d like to see what happens with Diaspora, if anything: but in the end, they’re dealing with the same mass of people, all with separate values. If they created a system to deal with the privacy philosophies of every individual, it could become very, very messy.

    @beaney

    • Paul says:

      I’m going to hazard a guess and say that very few of the average users know about shifting Facebook settings, unless Facebook put a giant message on the homepage when it happens. Even then, I’m willing to bet the majority of them close it out of annoyance, or leave it open for weeks without ever reading it – before closing it out of annoyance.

      However, (to stereotype and generalise) once our mothers and their friends can no longer contact us on a network – they’ll want to know which network we’re on, and eventually migrate. So they really don’t have to know, as long as a mass of savvy folk lead the way.

      • Beaney says:

        Oh god. I suddenly have an image in my head of my mum writing something really embarrassing on my wall for all to see until the end of time.

        I agree, even if Facebook advertised the changes, I’m not sure everyone would read it.

        I’m not sure migration would be that easy: a lot of people don’t know the internet without Facebook – it’s as much “the internet” as email is. I would be surprised if people actually moved, or if they did move, would they shut down their old accounts?

  2. Teknetia says:

    You have to look at the two products histories to understand why people are upset at Facebook for these constant privacy changes. Twitter was never private, it was always about broadcasting to the world (or at the least world that was interested enough to listen to you). Facebook started as a private service at Harvard and then branched into other universities and so on, all the while being a relatively private service for friends and family as opposed to every random online (a la Twitter, Myspace, etc.).

    These days, Facebook is gradually pushing its users to be open to the world like these others services, which in itself is not a bad thing, it’s the fact that they force it on you and make you have to opt-out of it that rubs people up the wrong way.

    The worst part is exactly as you and Beaney both say – non-technical users don’t care and would likely not care even if it was jammed in their faces with popups or whatever other method they chose to use. With the exception of the privacy aware of course, but they are already unlikely to trust Facebook with much of their information anyway.

    • Paul says:

      The evolution of Facebook is one of the reasons I wonder about how something like Diaspora is going to manage.

      It seems to me that the less private Facebook becomes, the better it works.

      That said, I understand the *desire* for privacy, and it would be nice to have the option.

      • Teknetia says:

        I think the annoyance is the forced changes rather than ability to be open. To make a comparison to Twitter, if you set your profile as private, Twitter doesn’t force you to be open because they would prefer that.

        And absolutely, a service like Facebook is better the more open everyone is, if you want to use it in an open way. I only really maintain a profile in order to keep up to date with friends and family in other countries, states and that haven’t yet made the leap to Twitter.

        Diaspora is a really interesting idea, and there is obviously a lot of interest to it, but with a distributed system it will make the topic of privacy and the impact it has on the system really interesting.

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