Menu Close

Do You Trust Facebook?


The rest of the world doesn’t seem to care, but the tech community is afire concerning Facebook’s privacy problems, and its seeming disregard for its users in its pursuit of the almighty dollar (or Euro, or whatever).  Leo Laporte, patron saint of the Internet, has deactivated all of his Facebook accounts, crediting this post from Jason Calacanis with convincing him.

Are there any of you who don’t use Facebook?  You probably remember the early days when your information was, by default, private.  That privacy has eroded over time.  For a look at  a timeline chronicling the evaporation of privacy on Facebook, take a look at this article on the Electronic Frontier Foundation site, or this graphic.

The short version: Facebook regressed from keeping all of your information private, to the default setting being that much of your information is public.  This means that, unless you figure out how to change the setting, when you connect to an application or website, "it will have access to General Information about you," which includes "your and your friend’s names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting."

If you list an interest on Facebook, that interest becomes linked to a public page.  Don’t want it to be public?  Don’t list it.  In the past, you could share that information with just your friends.  As Facebook’s vice president for public policy has said, nothing requires you to complete those fields.  The message: have a bland experience, or a public experience.  Your choice.

Worse than the disappearing privacy on Facebook, is the manner in which Facebook has obfuscated its privacy settings.  Do you understand how it works?  Does anyone?  Did you know that some of your information is shared with Yelp, Microsoft, and Pandora if you visit those sites, unless you find the setting on Facebook to turn that off?  One can’t help but think that Facebook WANTS it to be difficult to figure this stuff out.

Maybe this is no big deal to you, because, as a precaution, you just assume that everything that you post is public.  The big deal is that Facebook has pulled the rug out from under us on privacy, completely changing the nature of the site after sucking in millions of users under the guise of privacy. The big deal is that millions of users aren’t as savvy as you, and have no clue about what’s happening.  There are millions of people out there who would be appalled to learn that some of what they are posting is public.

So maybe it isn’t so much about privacy, as it is about trust.  Facebook’s privacy policy has changed so frequently, and the settings can be so difficult to figure out, that it makes it difficult to trust Facebook, and trust our own ability to keep our information private if we want to.

In short, Facebook has abused its position of power.  it is this power that has us over the barrel.  All of our friends are there.  The choice is between friends and principle, until something better comes along.  Perhaps that ultimately will be the answer.  Just as MySpace once looked invincible but faltered, it isn’t too difficult to envision a scenario in which Facebook will crash and burn in the face of something new and shiny that does social connections better.  Let’s hope that the new service brings more user privacy with it.

What do you think?  Are you concerned about privacy on Facebook?  At the very least, if you have privacy on Facebook under control, are you worried about Facebook’s moral compass?


Eraser photo by Alan Cleaver.  Facebook icon from the Open Icon Library.