I remember when Facebook was a small startup targeted to students on college campuses. It was called The Facebook then, making reference to the freshmen facebook that many universities put out. It was a great and useful tool to keep in touch with your classmates, share lecture notes, and plan study groups. Then it began to grow and the creators saw opportunity. Next they opened it up to high school kids. Everyone knows once something is in the hands of high school kids it is forever ruined (slightly kidding). Then they opened it up to everyone. Not only that, they opened it up to businesses and application developers and that began the era of myspace-ification; making Facebook ugly and annoying. That hasn’t stopped their growth though. No, in fact, they are still growing by leaps and bounds and doing so they have made some really questionable decisions regarding your privacy. The latest round of decisions sold out the average user to big companies in order to make a quick buck. Not only that, but they’ve decided that once private information is now public.
Say you’re like me and have been a Facebook member for a long time. There were certain parts of your profile that you could keep private. It seems that the company no longer thinks those things should remain private, even though they explicitly said they would in the past.
That’s pretty troubling if you ask me, especially the part about them not even notifying users. How would you like to do a Google search of yourself and find information that was only available to your friends be made public without any sort of notification? I wouldn’t like it, that’s for sure. Not only is some information public now, but applications can now access your personal information.
The ACLU put together an awareness campaign surrounding the privacy issues of Facebook applications. Using a sample app, the ACLU’s Facebook Quiz, many everyday Facebook users were shocked to find that applications (like quizzes) could access almost everything on a user profile, including hometown, groups you belong to, events attended, favorite books, and more. What’s worse is that your profile information becomes available to developers when your friends take the same quiz.
Why the Policy Change is Riskier Than It Appears
On its own, the new data retention policy doesn’t change how developers can use the data they store. In fact, for some developers, it won’t change much of anything at all – many simply ignored Facebook’s rules about data retention in the past. Even with the change, it’s just business as usual for those developers and their apps.
That said, the indefinite storage now permitted is concerning for a few reasons. As security engineer Joey Tyson points out on his blog, a site where he has detailed numerous hacks and security holes for Facebook, Google and more, the change makes Facebook apps “far more valuable targets for attackers.”
A popular application’s database could be filled with literally millions of users’ personal details (Facebook now touts 400 million users and Facebook’s most popular app, Farmville, for instance, boasts over 81 million users). If such a database was targeted for attack, the payload for hackers could be incredible. Source
Again, this leads to great mistrust of the social networking company. What is even worse is this is something that, again, is not told to users. Unless you are someone who cares deeply about privacy and changes to the service, chances are you’d never know. My mom and sister, two typical Facebook users, would never know about these changes unless I told them. But their troublesome data policies don’t end there.
Just announced is a new feature for Facebook’s “partner sites.” Basically, this is where Facebook really throws users under the bus in order to generate more revenue.
Among other things, Facebook this week announced new “personalization” changes–the stickiest of them being Instant Personalization, which shares all your publicly available information (name, profile picture, gender, and “Connections,” another new way for you to publicize all the things you’re interested in) with, right now, three partner sites: Yelp, Pandora, and Docs.com. It’s sticky because, as with most of Facebook’s annoying new features, it’s opt-out.
Instant Personalization also shares your list of friends, as well as those friends’ public information, with these partner sites. And again: you have to opt out of this feature, and even if you do, your public information will still be shared, if your friends remain opted in. The only way to stop that from happening, according to Facebook’s fine print, is to actually block the application entirely. Source
This one is the one I have the most trouble with. Now my information becomes ad targeting fodder for any website that wants to make a deal with Facebook. How is this any different than a company selling your email address to spammers or your phone number to telemarketers? In my eyes, it’s not. Not only is this service not opt-in, there is no way to completely opt-out except for blocking each and every app that you (or any one of your friends) use. This is unacceptable.
Facebook is also trying to become the social web, combining every social aspect into one single location. The problem is that is not realistic.
The aim of Facebook’s new integration is that the whole web be like your own social network. Except, here’s the thing: I like having my social networks separate. My friends on Twitter are not the same as those on Facebook, nor are they the same as on Yelp or any other platform.
Everyone’s life is like this. You have a core group of friends and then a group of peripheral and online friends who you don’t want to know everything. In attempting to make everything available to everyone, Facebook are trying to tear down walls between social groups that are not only normal and common, but healthy. Source
That, to me, is the perfect explanation. Think about your real life friends for a second. Surely you have different “groups” of friends. Most of the time they never meet. And that’s fine. What Facebook is trying to do is to get everyone together, whether they want to or not, or as George Costanza might say, “Worlds are colliding, Jerry!” I’m willing to bet that there are a lot people who don’t want their social life (Twitter) mixing with their professional life (Linkedin). One is more fun and one is professional. There is nothing wrong with that.
Facebook is heading in a very troublesome direction, some might say they are even becoming harmful. The more I think about it the more I feel that I should really delete my account. I don’t use it often but it is nice to know it’s there in case I need to get in touch with people I don’t normally converse with, or who don’t use other social networks, but I really don’t know how it’s even worth it anymore. With each passing moment I come closer and closer to deleting my account.