Facebook's Privacy Concerns No Private Matter

Facebook's Privacy Concerns No Private Matter

I spend a lot of time on Facebook, though little of it is as myself. I do it for companies, I do it for research, and I do it as a blogger trying to get my work out into the web. But for most people, Facebook is an escape and a distraction, a welcome one that offers community, games and an interesting diversion from whatever else is going on that day in their lives. People have found it compelling enough to make it more populated than the United States.

But now the gigantic social network is facing both a user backlash and government questions about its privacy policies and options.

They even introduced a place for you to leave your comments called http://www.facebook.com/privacyfeedback .

I can only imagine what the incoming messages are like.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said this week that Facebook will institute simpler versions of privacy settings, hopng to appease users who are worried that their information is available to everyone from Internet stalkers to marketing agencies. Anyone hear the echoes of George Orwell or Kurt Vonnegut in this whole thing? Perhaps we will not bring Big Brother on ourselves.

One big thing is that they will make it so that users have to explicitly say that they want 3rd parties to have access to their personal information. They are going to make the number of privacy settings 15 rather than the current 50. Much easier, yes.

But what is the larger issue here? The United States government has instituted the Patriot Act and while there was some outcry, nothing has really changed. At the same time, Facebook has redefined our ideas about privacy. Most people just aren’t all that worried about anyone stealing their information- it’s like the willful suspension of belief around driving in a car. Maybe someone else will get in an accident, but I won’t. Maybe someone else will get their information stolen, but I won’t. Someone else will get their account hacked, not me.

It’s an interesting experiment in group psychology. We now see the privacy issue coming in from both the public and private sides.

And Zuckerberg is notorious for his belief that people want to share their information, that they aren’t too interested in keeping lots of things private- indeed, the idea of sharing information with friends as well as strangers is inherent to the social network makeup.

"Users use the service because they love sharing information," said Zuckerberg.

And the new Facebook settings will still make the default settings a wide-sharing option. No one will have privacy by default.

"But there are other voices that will continue -- governments, public sector and privacy advocates. The fundamental issues won't go away. They will reappear over time. Again and again,” said Gartner analyst Ray Valdes.

Indeed. Senators have questions the ethics of Facebook’s sharing policies. The nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center has asked the U.S. government to investigate the privacy policies.

There are powerful and loud voices that will not let Facebook rest. And while they continue to grow to over 500 million users, expect this debate to go global, not just remain in the United State.

Photo Credit: Balakov