I’ve been reading through danah boyd’s recent posts, Facebook is a utility; utilities get regulated and Facebook and “radical transparency” (a rant) and all the other posts out there about Facebook and this privacy issue – and would like to add my voice to the mix.
Everything seems to be coming to a head, and I haven’t seen anyone really tackle the emotional aspects of what’s going on, so I’d like to take a crack at it.
Everyone is up at arms and pissed, but do we know why? What’s the big deal with privacy? What is privacy? What are we really talking about here?
When conversations get commodified, we are lost.
Tell me, besides being physically intimate with another human, what is more sacred than the space where you share yourself and your life with others?
Whether this be a conversation, sending a photo of what you’re doing, a text message, or any other form of communicating information about the way you feel or the things you think – what else is there?
This is us being human.
In my opinion, people are not so much upset that Facebook is making this sharing of ourselves more transparent, it’s that this sharing of ourselves is being commodified, and people are making money off of it.
For me, this is bullshit.
If I can’t have a conversation with you without someone invading it and trying to sell me something, I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.
How much closer do you want to come to my soul, and then try to put up an advertisement next to it???
For me, THIS is the big privacy issue.
Putting ourselves out there is not a bad thing. Someone profiting off of it IS.
This is why the open source movement is about to absolutely explode, this is why a project like diaspora has raised almost $200k in less than a month on Kickstarter, why people are looking at open protocols like OAuth and open source tools like Mahout and Hadoop, why the concept of Junto is being fleshed out, why the “crazy” developers and builders of the infrastructure are getting restless and might be ready to extend themselves to each other and build the bridges between each other so that this new thing can FINALLY emerge.
People want to be able to communicate with each other without being robbed.
We want to share ourselves with each other because it helps us learn, relate, and grow.
The most valuable things we have are time and attention.
These are the things we give to people we care about.
When someone makes money off of us exchanging the highest gifts we can give, it crushes the soul.
Facebook has what, over 500 million people now?
They don’t have to compete with the “next big thing” social network. They already have us there, and it’s a pain in the ass to have to be migrating all the time, but we’ll do it if we have to.
Maybe they should just pay attention to the open movement and figure out how to be a part of it, instead of fight it.
Facebook is not the wolf, the greed for money is the wolf.
Facebook could unite with the open source movement and be a foundation for a new global economy to emerge.
Have you seen Rushkoff describe the future of money?
Have you seen Thomas Power describe the Bank of Facebook and the potential of a peer to peer business model?
Do you see?
There is a tremendous opportunity right now to do the right thing and EMPOWER people.
And everyone can join the party.
Facebook has a choice, and ultimately it’s the battle over your soul.
Are you gonna sell out, or do the right thing?
Just let me be.
This is what privacy means to me.
What does it mean to you?
John Mark said:
What type of privacy are we talking about on Facebook? Why is it an issue? Your e-mail, website address, or phone number should not be an issue? What’s new about that? Besides, you don’t have to provide that if you don’t want to. Your hobbies, interests? What’s new about that? Don’t most of us want to share them? What’s the point of interests if we cannot share them with others? Aren’t frankness and friendliness main keys to social networking?
Venessa Miemis said:
yes, quite. what is privacy??
people want to keep things hidden. what is it you want to hide?
ok, then stop using your cell phone and passport, because those having tracking devices in them. and don’t go out in public because google street view will see you. and get your home address unlisted in the white pages and online. (good luck).
your social network?
ok, quit your job, leave your friends and family, and go live in a cave somewhere. why are you afraid for people to see who you know and trust? aren’t your connections a source of pride in who you are?
i want to know what people think privacy means.
are we just afraid in general?
as we saw on 9/11 and again a few weeks ago with the bomb in Times Square (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/nyregion/02timessquare.html), if someone has set the intention to hurt you and is willing to die for it, you can’t stop them. period.
so instead of living in fear, maybe we should just accept the fact that we have mortality, and instead choose to live a meaningful life, which involves being authentic, living in harmony with your inner value system, and building community with the people you care about.
Well, I think that the “good luck” thing is the root of the problem. Facebook seems to have the right to own your information and then change their policies on the fly to do whatever they want. Its easy to blame the users for providing such information, but in the end, users are citizens that meant to be protected from abuses such this. Its sad to see that nothing is happening to put some regulation in the matter.
Venessa Miemis said:
hey, i agree with you. the ‘good luck’ was meant to indicate – we are totally at the mercy of someone else right now. not good.
Yes, that was what I thought you meant to say and worth pointing out. Sorry the misunderstood. Lets be friends! 🙂
Venessa Miemis said:
Martijn Linssen said:
Thank you Venessa, inspiring
It’s not the mere making money out of it, what FB is doing is ha ving you find out that your intimate and privsate moments were filmed by Candid Camera, and published on the internet without your knowledge or consent
That is where the real obscenity of it all is: Mark Zuckerberg c.s. breaking agreements they made with you – and hen using that to make money
Facebook has only 250 million active users (http://www.martijnlinssen.com/2010/04/face-off-for-facebook.html). 400 or 500 is yet another lie
Four weeks ago I said: I wouldn’t be surprised if the public opinion would turn against Facebook much like it’s starting to do so regarding the Vatican. #Zuck4pope (http://twitter.com/MartijnLinssen/status/12724362459)
Zuck is just doing what he wants, according to his own judgem ents. Which apparently are perfectly isolated from the rest of the world. Oh well, he’s just a kid – but a kid with powerfull weapons
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks martijn. who knows what the numbers are…. i don’t pay too close attention to that anyway, because it’s nearly impossible to know what the truth is. but, there are certainly a lot of people using the service. maybe facebook won’t change, and it will continue to be what it is, and those that want ownership of their data will simply leave. or, they will maintain accounts with facebook just to stay in touch with those that are using the service, but the posting they do of personal information will be limited.
Fabio Barone said:
It’s all about people. FB is just a tool creating a new space.
Yeah, Martijn, I just had similar thoughts. FB set up this huge fair, and people adore it. We go there, to have conversations, to meet others, to admire works of others, listen to speeches, watch a movie, maybe even make some bucks etc. There are also bigger and smaller spaces, where groups and friends gather, with gatekeepers or without. I see, the guys behind this fair deserve to be paid for the service.
While others resort to sponsors or so, FB goes another way. They use cameras and microphones to record everything going on in this fair. And sell it to whoever pays for that.
We could say brilliant economic innovation.
We could say fair visitors ought to know what’s going on.
Privacy is tricky (as well as contextual and cultural). Visit orkut.com, which is very popular in Brazil. You’ll see a different notion of private information…
Nevertheless I’d like to know the rules to which I play. I’ll behave differently. I’m not going to shout my private life into the market plaza. But even if maybe others will, it should be made clear to everybody at the entrance to the fair what happens inside, and not lull people into believing in false walls and compartments.
I simply lost trust in FB and I am refraining from putting much content, while I actually like it for the service it gives me (Tomorrow I’m going to meet an old friend for a beer because we just disagreed on all this on a FB thread…).
This means whenever I spot something which works better for me I’ll be elsewhere. And I have a feeling many others will do the same.
Murat Cannoyan said:
I do agree that there is a tremendous opportunity to empower people through social technologies. Social networking has and will continue to transform our online and offline culture in many ways. I have really enjoyed this blogs voice related to this transition. I also believe Facebook has to do better when communicating and executing their stated goal of “Giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Your comments remind me how personal the content we contribute can be. It also reminds me that monetizing a social network is especially problematic. I don’t however think of greed for money in this case to be the wolf, as you put it. From what I have read the leadership at Facebook seems to not think of themselves as protectors of their community but instead has treated them as not worthy of the trust that users have put in their hands. That approach is foolish and shortsighted. Like you said, they already have us. Continue on the path of empowering users and you will be rewarded with the currency of trust. I can appreciate that Facebook would want to take advantage of their momentum and help users expand their ideas of what open or private might mean. They are to a large degree pioneering the space for many of us but I truly believe that being open and social and ultimately trust worthy means communicating with clarity when presenting changes in the way you hope to open up the web with our most personal content. Ultimately, Facebook benefits from building a relationship with their users of trust and respect. Being in as powerful a position as they are seems to be making that more difficult.
Venessa Miemis said:
thank you. that was really well said.
“treated them as not worthy of the trust that users have put in their hands” is a huge one.
interesting you say about taking advantage of the momentum, expanding people’s ideas, and pioneering the space of “open.” i think that IS what they’re probably trying to do, but i think it has to happen in a very slow, safe way.
you can’t force someone to expand their ideas by pulling the net out from under them and saying “trust me.”
i think there needs to be a very clear, clarified explanation of WHY they think it should be done and WHY it is safe. then they SHOW how other people are being open and what that looks like. then they give the people the option to choose.
you can’t force openness. either the person wants to do it or they don’t, and whether your ideology firmly believes it to be the “right” thing doesn’t really matter. you can’t force people to believe what you believe.
if you look at the big picture of the world, that forcing of views on each other is the root of many of our problems as people.
Simon Bostock said:
I’ve thought about this one a lot. I’ve read all the articles. But I can’t work up enough energy to get too angry.
The privacy issue is overblown. Facebook’s privacy issues are far less insidious than the credit card companies and the loyalty cards and the like. I’ve been to CRM conferences where vendors were selling plug-ins that would pull up all kinds of whatnot based on IP address and other signals. At least Facebook are open about caring not a jot for your privacy. I work with all kinds of people who had never had ANY opinions about (or knowledge of) online privacy issues a couple of months ago. And we can be pretty sure they have thought about it now.
And I can’t get excited about a monopoly that’s only been around for a few years. They seem to be busy making the same mistakes as all the other pseudo-open-but-in-reality-walled-garden people. If they truly do become a utility then I’ll man the barricades. But I’m not worried, precisely because of people like Diaspora.
Having said all this, I don’t really use Facebook. I use it as a kind of roach motel to draw my family and other unwanteds into. It’s certainly not anywhere close to becoming a utility in my life. And for the people who do rely on it, all the things I hate most about it are features not bugs.
I care about this stuff. And Facebook is a missed opportunity – but we get the mainstream Social Media we deserve, and Facebook IS the first truly mainstream Social Media. This furore is overstated and more noise than signal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the discussion and it’s time we had the privacy debate. But the issues are with Social Media not Facebook.
Venessa Miemis said:
yeah, i hear you. i am on facebook. i use it to keep in touch with a specific group of “real life” friends, to find out about events they are organizing or attending, and to be ambiently aware of what they’re up to. there is nothing i post on facebook that i would be afraid for someone to see. (lol… i post everything that is truly important to me here on this blog already.).
i guess that it comes back down to CONTEXT.
it’s concerning, especially for youth who are using these tools without really having had the experience framed for them and what the consequences are of putting information in a place where once you click “publish”, it effectively becomes timeless.
Scott Lewis said:
Conversations are valuable. In my opinion, to treat anything that is valuable as priceless is one of the biggest mistakes that we can make. One of the reasons we don’t have peace is because we don’t value it properly. We know the price of an AK-47, but we can’t put a price on that weapon being bullet free. Why not? Peace is priceless. I say we commoditize it, as soon as possible, or face endless violence at the hands of those who are willing to price their ammunition at a price higher than ‘priceless’.
Facebook provides a service, a framework, they deserve to be valued for what they provide and they make their money indirectly through advertising and credits. No big deal.
Similarly, telephone companies provide a service, they make money directly off of your conversations. Even more directly than Facebook does. Ever get a phone bill?
The privacy issue is: Do they listen to what you say and then sell or use the content of that conversation for something other than you intended. This is what makes people mad.
The other thing that makes people mad is Facebook keeps changing the rules about what can be private and what can’t. The phone companies generally do a more decent job of protecting privacy, of course they are making way more money too. They have wire-tapping fiascoes when they let the government try to “protect” us from ourselves without a proper warrant, but most people don’t even care about that. The Canadian government is much more incompetent than the US at spying on it’s own people, or I would be more mad about that.
Open source is great for tools (which are generally used individually(no scaling)). The problem with network products (that aren’t tools) is they keep changing and the number of people using them keeps increasing. Open source doesn’t pay their engineers very well and if you have a product that needs to be retooled constantly or you have to make it work for more and more people (scaling) that is expensive and you want people focused on it or you’re service may suffer. The easiest way to provide for their focus and well being is by paying them, so they don’t have to worry about feeding their families.
I applaud Facebook for keeping their service free and being able to make money and scale to the size they have. I think they are being dumb for not treating their users privacy as top priority and I think they are being naive for not supporting sharing of all types, even anonymous. However, they are the first to market with the best, online, party scheduling, Rollodex of all time. Are you quitting Facebook? I’m not. I can’t even afford to party these days, but if I want to see what event is coming up Facebook makes it easy for me. I like that.
I agree that the gift economy is growing, but it will not replace the value economy. They will balance at some point. The only way to change the value economy is to stop buying stuff you don’t need.
ps. If I could put an ad up next to my soul I would. I would delight in having some additional income to advance my mission of commoditizing peace.
Cole Tucker said:
It seems (2me) that attempting to model even more of the world as commodities takes us even further away from trust-nets and would increase our dependence on the same institutional structures that we see actively undercutting themselves.
Also, I read this study as suggesting that using exchange-based models systematically biases us away from cooperation, senses of responsibility and personal engagement.
The “value-economy” relies, completely, on externalizing costs. Each of us sits here, responsible for the oil spill in the gulf, the slave labor which supplies our goods, the wars needed to reduce the numbers of disaffected young men. “To stop buying stuff you don’t need” does not fix this; everything within this economy depends on exploitation. Building these alternate structures, to escape the death machine, might give us a chance.
Scott Lewis said:
Thank you for your comment.
You are correct. Stopping buying does not fix anything, but if we only bought what we needed it could help bring the level of exploitation to a greater balance. We cannot exist without exploiting the world around us. To say otherwise is a mystical betrayal of our connection and dependence on the physical world. How we exploit it and each other is what needs to change. Removing exploitation itself is an impossible mission.
Imo, these structures are not alternate, they are novel. There is no escape from the death machine (do you mean time?). What we have is a chance to build something new, but to make it priceless or free is to invite its destruction and misuse by the most insidious hands. If you pay for something do you not value it more than that which is given to you? You in turn probably earned the pay that bought you the thing of your desire, by providing some value to the world. If you did so under slave-like conditions then I understand your frustration. We move too fast. We need it done yesterday. These are what make the machine into a “death machine”.
Cole Tucker said:
Awesome thoughts. I can honestly say nothing I have that one can purchase comes anywhere near in value to those things which money cannot touch. Not even close, an absolute discontinuity appears between the two.
Perhaps my colloquial use of ‘exploitation’ resulted in some confusion; ‘abuse’ fits my intention more correctly. Everything in the current economy depends on abuse. We have strong models of non-abusive living already. Permaculture teaches us how to shepherd our lands, humane and sustainable husbandry brings virtue back to our relationships with domesticated animals, peer-to-peer trust-nets return humanity to our organization relationships.
Perhaps we can continue this conversation later, as I don’t want to distract from Venessa’s discussion on privacy.
Venessa Miemis said:
“How we exploit it and each other is what needs to change.”
i don’t like that word. to me it is synonymous with cruelty and trickery. (just my interpretation).
maybe it could be thought of “how can we honor each other and the things we use to survive and create that is harmonious?”
not to go all Avatar, but i really enjoyed the way they showed the people appreciating everything around them, even when it involved killing an animal in order to eat.
i’m reading this book right now – The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. check it out if you get a chance. very interesting. http://www.amazon.com/Gift-Imagination-Erotic-Life-Property/dp/0394715195
Jeff Dickey said:
Venessa, brilliant post. You nailed a large part of what I’ve been thinking about this whole Facebook-hits-the-fan thing over the last month or so.
For what it’s worth, I’ve deleted my own FB account… this causes a certain amount of professional pain, but if we don’t stand up for our principles, history shows unequivocally that others will stand on them…with combat boots and bulldozers.
I agree with Cole Tucker’s rephrasing of his original comment; capitalist economics, and its variations (state capitalism, crony capitalism, economic libertarianism, etc.) and the societies and structures that have grown around them, are inherently fraudulent and abusive of individuals and other “minor” participants. That can’t be changed in the current understanding of the system…which is farther away from Adam Smith than from Goebbels or Stalin.
Getting back to privacy, which in this context I interpret to mean “informed consent to, if not active control over, the participants in one’s conversations and social activities,” I think what enables abusers to get away with that sort of thing is a symbol of how much humanity has really lost over just the last forty years or so: the deliberate and systematic trashing of what was once an increasingly effective, increasingly universal educational system. In many places, such as here in Second World Singapore, and to a disturbing extent even in First World countries like the US, “education” is becoming synonymous with “indoctrination.” People are indoctrinated from youth in the idea that things are (basically) the way they should be, and any attempt to induce, or even discuss, radical change is at best doomed to utter failure. “Draw inside the lines as you like, but venture outside them and I’ll break your crayon, and then you won’t be able to draw any more.” Who is saying that to us? The “major” participants in the economy: corporations and the historically-extremely tiny proportion of individuals who benefit from the status quo. Any time you have large segments of a culture working actively against their own interests (post-1974 Republicanism in the US, the PAP in Singapore, Kadima and Likud in Israel), that is the cultural equivalent of a hypersonic train wreck – spectacular debris and collateral damage, with absolute zero survivability.
Orwell wrote, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face — forever.” Despite the best efforts of those who see the problem and have ideas about how to improve things, until and unless those people become socioeconomically dominant within the current, failing system, we’re unlikely to see real improvement before the Mother Of All Crashes, when everyone realizes how fundamentally broken the system is, and responds predictably (i.e., with panic, rage and self-righteous exceptionalism).
I’d like to believe in a better outcome — I’d love to help make a better outcome — I’ve just become very disillusioned with making real progress against the status quo.
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. ” Kennedy didn’t say anything about successful revolution.
>>[economic libertarianism is] inherently fraudulent and abusive of individuals
Can you be clearer on why you see (consistent) libertarianism as inherently fraudulent and abusive of individuals?
Peter Reynolds said:
Surely privacy and Facebook are mutually exclusive. That’s the problem!
Dorian Taylor said:
I have argued recently that information privacy is a maturation of private property, and that it extends our power to think in the way that private property extends our carrying capacity.
Simon Bostock said:
I enjoyed your piece on privacy. I think the Cardinal Richelieu was illustrating the danger of information asymmetry rather than the necessity of privacy.
You’re right about the conflation of ‘privacy’ and ‘secrecy’ too. But there is a world of difference between information privacy and forced disclosure.
Here’s a taster of Dorian’s piece for others:
“If we peruse the information artifacts we create for our own consumption, they share a common character. Diaries, shopping lists, math equations, doodles and mementos tend to be highly contextual, only carrying enough data to do the work of offloading thought and memory. This behaviour is similar in private communications which tend to be riddled with idiom, inference and innuendo. By extension, these artifacts are characteristically unfit for consumption outside the parties for whom they are intended, and herein lies the problem.
The Cardinal Richelieu, famous for his contributions to the crafts of espionage, propaganda and information warfare, is reported to have said “given six lines written by the most honest man, I will find within them the means to have him hanged.””
Dorian Taylor said:
Thanks Simon, I agree completely that Richelieu was talking about the danger of information asymmetry. Also attributed to him is “never write a letter and never destroy one”. Again, if he subscribed to his own principles, we can’t be sure if he actually did.
What I was trying to illustrate was the notion that somebody coming into your house and taking some of your stuff necessarily deprives you of that stuff. When somebody takes some of your information and relays it onward, any asymmetry you once enjoyed evaporates, and likely you incur a substantive cost and irrevocable disadvantage. If somebody out there knows a lot about me but I don’t know anything about them, that is uncomfortable at best. I suppose in some ways that’s the most offensive component, especially if the content of the information is benign, just not for public consumption. Explaining away misperceptions is subject to real costs.
I’ll also concede a gradient between complete privacy and complete disclosure, but this is the internet, it just wouldn’t be right without a smattering of hyperbole!
Simon Bostock said:
I love a bit of hype. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it – it’s the way it’s used that’s the problem 🙂
So here’s mine:
If Facebook’s a monopoly/utility then there’s no real problem with the privacy abuse. Because we’re all in the same boat and there’s little or no information asymmetry. It’s information asymmetry that’s the problem, rather than any abstract ‘privacy’.
If Facebook’s not a monopoly/utility then there is a potential problem with information asymmetry. But we can leave and the market will sort it out.
Dorian Taylor said:
I think it’s important to recognize that any software system is inherently a monopoly unless its progenitors are proactive in making it behave otherwise. What you get with any software system is somebody’s opinion of how a certain problem ought to be solved. It is therefore subject to disagreements both around objectives as well as method. But the product can’t easily be split up across the lines of what you agree with and what you don’t.
That said, it applies to any artifact of manufacture. There are many writing instruments, for instance, that have been invented over time, from a stick in the sand, to pencils and pens, to typewriters, to Microsoft Word. But I venture that no conceivable variation in the manufacture of a pen can affect the content and quality of your writing in any significant way. This is not true for Microsoft Word, which often causes entire organizations to contort their behaviour in subtle but still perceivable ways. The effects range from adding directly to the cost of hiring a new employee so that he or she may interact with the organization’s knowledge infrastructure, to the architecture of the infrastructure itself.
With Facebook likewise, the experience and the conditions surrounding it reduce to the architect’s opinion of what they ought to be. And just as in any organization, the ultimate architect is the chief executive, who, through the pattern of his decisions, is the one that determines what the organization means to the rest of society.
Zuckerberg enjoyed what effectively reduces to an arbitrage opportunity in the collective ignorance of his user base with regard to the state of their information, and has parlayed that into the powerful yet contentious position of being a pusher, and only one in town. To this I note that customer ignorance is not a reliable contributor to profit (in the sense of Taleb’s Fourth Quadrant), and that all but the hardest-core addicts squeezed too hard are prone to finding better drugs.
With Scott (above), I sense that the market economy is fine at the boundary where social networks/tribes (to me, “the extended self”) interact with others.
I vastly prefer voluntary commercial exchange – including information disclosures and marketing messages consistent with mutually-agreed norms at the boundaries of interacting entities – to zero-sum political power struggles.
That said, the socnets/tribes that I choose to join will be those that profoundly respect my gatekeeping rules for the information that I am ready to share, and the marketing messages that I am ready to accept. The rules that I cocreate and agree to in these collectives will vary based on the aims and values of a given trustnet.
Over time, at a general level, the socnets/tribes will come up with a wide spectrum of internal rules/norms to balance desires to live in trust gift economies with the use of market/commercial exchange at their boundaries.
I’m all in favor of such diversity and experimentation, as they will enrich my ability to engage in socnets/tribes that use market interactions rather than coercion to bring others into sustainable (internal) information-sharing trustnet cultures and gift economies.
Peter Reynolds said:
Any chance of writing in non-jargon English next time?
Peter Reynolds said:
Anyone would think you were some sort of Californian nutso professor – oh,maybe you are!
Venessa Miemis said:
absolutely. that’s kind of my goal. i’m trying to make my own views and opinions extremely non-jargony, because i don’t want to come across as confusing.
can you tell me what seemed jargony, and i will try to clarify my view?
Peter Reynolds said:
It wasn’t you Venessa.It was Mark
Yes, I should have been clearer. I dashed the reply off yesterday as we were heading out the door.
The basic point, if you want to respond –
1) I’m fine with online communities making money off of conversations that I’m in – as long as they make clear how/when they’ll do so (before I choose to join)
2) I personally like to have relationships that aren’t based on monetary exchange, in cases where I see shared values.
That’s my $0.02 on this…
Alec Perkins said:
To me, the issue of privacy on Facebook, and any other service for that matter, comes down to control, and the expectations of control and privacy. People don’t seem to be particularly mad about the actual sharing of information and conversations (though that certainly does contribute to the anger), but rather to their lack of control over what gets revealed. Any time there’s a row over privacy, the statements are along the lines of “I didn’t say you could reveal that” or “I don’t want that public”. I’m not saying that people don’t mind if all their information is public, but that it’s the loss of control that is jarring. (Arguably, this is to some extent the same sort of sentiment behind the Tea Party.)
Google’s Buzz is a great example of control, or the lack thereof. With Buzz, the issue was not so much that people’s contacts were being revealed, it’s that they were being revealed without consent. Also, Buzz made assumptions about relationships and got it wrong. In my case, the people I talk to in email aren’t really the people I interact with regularly and want to see updates from; phone, SMS, and Twitter are for informal, regular chats, while email is for more formal conversations.
Likewise, Facebook made various assumptions when trying to normalize the things people put in their interests so it could make pages out of them. Like Buzz, it also made mistakes typical of automated processes applied on top of fuzzy, human input. I had Pandora listed on my profile, and it linked to the Greek mythological figure. I don’t have anything against the first woman — I even named one of my computers after her — but I was expressing interest in the music service. I imagine many of the others who were suddenly fans of this “community page” were also interested in the music service and not the Greek.
These community pages are exemplary of Facebook’s problem. Everything on the site is presented as belonging to the users (e.g. your profile, the community’s pages), but it’s all owned by Facebook. The community pages were all created automatically, with content pulled from Wikipedia. I can see where Facebook is going with these community pages. However, their forceful approach — automatically linking everything on profiles to pages and not allowing things that don’t link — removes control from the user and is contributing to the backlash.
Having “lived through” the rise and fall of another social network (metails.com) that had similar problems with trying to work in revenue generation around user contributions, I was very conscious of the fact that Facebook owned everything on the site. I don’t mind the ads because I know Facebook needs to sustain itself financially. My expectation was like Eric Schmidt’s – if you don’t want people to see it, don’t put it online. However, I’m almost certainly the exception, not the rule.
The other day, someone I work with commented about something on my Facebook profile (I’m not friends with them on Facebook). This caught me by surprise as I think of my profile as slightly more private, even though I have set the privacy settings to be fairly permissive. I didn’t have a problem with them seeing it, and even explicitly enabled the settings to make it possible, but it still didn’t quite match my expectation of who could see it and who couldn’t.
Facebook’s privacy settings are complicated, so it’s difficult for a user to understand what control they wield over their own information, not to mention the information of others. Even with the “see my profile as others see it” feature, it’s hard to match up your personal expectation of the privacy of your profile with the settings needed to make it so. Plus, as Scott mentions, Facebook keeps changing the rules. Tsk tsk.
On the technical side, Facebook contributes quite a bit to open source. In fact, one of the hot new database technologies, Cassandra, is straight out of Facebook and is now under the wing of the Apache Software Foundation. Also, when it bought FriendFeed, Facebook opened up Tornado, the web server software behind FriendFeed. Facebook’s even sponsoring the TC Disrupt hackathon.
The policy side of Facebook could learn from the technical side and open itself up. Facebook needs to be a lot clearer about what is public by default, and what control users have over their information. Any rule changes, which are inevitable given the evolving nature of the platform, need to be stated ahead of time in a clear manner: “This is what’s coming, this is what will be public, you have this long to adjust your profile.” I completely understand that, as such a complicated site, doing so is not easy. Still it’s necessary.
So yeah, privacy to me is about expectations and control. On Twitter, the expectation is everything will be public, as that’s kind of the point. (Twitter also keeps it simple. Either you’re posts are totally private or totally public.) On Buzz, email is private, so the expectation is everything to do with email will stay private unless you say otherwise. On Facebook, profiles started as private, so the expectation defaults to privacy, even though the settings are now largely the opposite.
Cole Tucker said:
It seems to me like two very different conversations could go on here. I’m fascinated by the reading of privacy that I take from this, focusing on protection from intrusion rather than secrecy. I need to play with the idea before speaking any further to it.
Regarding the characterization of anger towards Facebook, it does not match my feelings. I’m more than happy to allow targeted ads for cloud services – I love me some g(mail|chat|oogle). Instead, the asymmetry of the relationship, repeatedly abused, has convinced me that I should have an antagonistic attitude towards the company. Even before finding out about Zuckerberg’s various email faux pas, I understood that the guiding minds behind FB had no interest in honesty and authenticity.
Facebook poisoned its own well by acting against the very things that make social media technology so powerful: trust, authenticity, reciprocity.
Gwynne Kostin said:
Thanks, Vanessa, for adding to the discussion in your usual, thoughtful way.
I don’t think that the issue is as much that Facebook is commoditizing our snippets of ourselves as the way they are doing it. The aggregation and connections that they are exposing to make their money is what crosses the line, at least in my thinking.
Facebook users shared “info” about themselves on a tab to help friends connect with them. They typed in activities like eating ice cream, knitting, or shooting guns. Facebook, with its blunt instrument, scraped these free form snippets and created affinity groups without the users consent, or even knowledge. See for example http://www.facebook.com/pages/Shooting-Guns/371989791452 — 30 thousand people are grouped around this topic. Or see http://www.facebook.com/pages/Drinking/103090306397293, where 483,000 people are grouped together as a “community” because they said they liked “drinking.”
So now Facebook can put ads on community pages that people don’t know about and didn’t consent to being part of because Facebook is eavesdropping on our conversations and mining them for profit. And the only way to avoid being part of these “communities” is to erase these parts of your profile. To become blank.
For me, It’s not the profit itself, but the aggregation that creates assumptions about people AND the that the default is sharing AND the huge, convoluted barriers to people being able to opt out (like it takes 2 weeks to delete your FB account!). Who owns my profile? Not me, but Facebook.
Peter Reynolds said:
Surely, surely, surely…
It’s not Facebook, it’s the people on Facebook!
Facebook facilitates bad behaviour. If you want to indulge in this “masturbation of the personality” then don’t be surprised if you get loads of junk mail from webcam girls!
I use Facebook (as little as I can) not the reverse.
Pingback: Storytelling Social Media Marketing PR Business & Technology Curated Stories May 23, 2010
Hmmm, I had it up to here (quite high!) with their regular dubious policy changes. I moved to http://www.folkdirect.com a couple of weeks ago (was featured in the Huffington Post last week). All cool.
Alec Perkins said:
There is a timely discussion going on at Robert Scoble’s site, with a couple responses from two people from Facebook (including Zuckerberg).
http://scobleizer.com/2010/05/23/facebook-we-have-a-problem/ and http://scobleizer.com/2010/05/23/when-do-you-throw-a-ceos-privacy-under-the-bus/
Well said, Venessa and co-creators in this asymmetric dialog. Asymmetric only a little, because we all agree from the outset it is public, unless or until Venessa pulls the plug.
We trust she keeps her end of the deal, to provide this open space for conversation, and not to disclose information we designate as confidential, or entrusted her with by private means.
If she or anyone else for that matter breaks the deal we feel betrayed. Burglary of the soul, a breaking of agreements that we intended as a foundation to keep us together. The deal works as long as both sides are sure of the other respecting the sacredness of the word.
If someone breaks the agreement, once, twice, repeatedly, what are our options? Ultimately we may exercise our right to free speech – here the right not to speak to a person who breaks our trust. This private excommunication is our last resort to maintain self-determinism who we tell what about us.
Without this freedom, we are bonded in servitude to a tyrant information regime.
Peace in a community depends on trust, fostered by being free to choose who we talk to, about what, and whether in puplic or private. Choose wisely.
Peter Reynolds said:
“Tyrant” is the word!
Peter, I hear you. I agree with your take that facebook apparently amplifies adolescent pointlessness. It May look like a space to encourage a second-rate artificial kind of life. How do we know it is not just an almost public posterboard for things that used to be said among friends, much of it pointless babble to outsiders and serenely ignored?
Cole Tucker said:
Thank for you for this Bernd!
Tyrant indeed, but tyrants rely on border control and fears of immigration.
Thank you, Cole. The gatekeepers lose it big time and they often do not know why people desert them as soon as they can. The other day I picked up a picture chronicle of 1989-11-09, the day the Berlin Wall fell. Still brings tears to my eyes. #gratitude.
To add my voice on privacy, two recent posts of mine http://j.mp/cBc8tX earlier http://j.mp/ar19PF See @dsearls comment.
Jon Garfunkel said:
re: “If I can’t have a conversation with you without someone invading it and trying to sell me something, I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.”
Yet you have a gmail address…
Venessa Miemis said:
ha, well, how else do i stay in touch?! i have a facebook account too! i’m not saying i agree with it, but until i have an alternative option, i need a way to keep in touch with the people that are important to me….
Gavin Heaton said:
Trust is a huge issue – and Facebook has a history of pushing the boundaries of what is “socially” acceptable and then backflipping on their position. I think you nailed it about “converations” – we, the users, see Facebook as a series of conversations, interactions and so on. Facebook, however, see their platform as a “place” or a “space” in which those conversations take place. It’s like going to Starbucks or McDonald’s – we may go for the free wifi but we know we are going to be barraged with offers and incentives etc. It’s a trade-off. The problem is that when we go to Facebook, we don’t see Facebook, we see our friends – and Facebook sees opportunity.
Privacy. I think what people expected from Facebook was a social space where they could talk their minds and share themselves a little bit more. The idea was not to make it public. Maybe all this social media obsession with “personal brands” (term that i disagree with) has made people believe that all of our life has to be public. This isn’t the truth, the same as when we have meetings with our closest friends to discuss matters we don’t want shared (like the end of a relationship, the decision to change jobs, etc.).
This is what we expected of Facebook a place where I can share a little bit more because I know I have control over who has access to it. And now Facebook has made all of our information, even the one that can make us uncomfortable, public. This is not the only bad part, then they’re profiting with our information and it’s publicness.
I think that there’s other ways in which Facebook can profit. Specially with the business pages and with opt in community pages. Rather than making abusive changes they have the opportunity to build trust and still make money.
I agree with Vanessa that the greed for money is what’s bad with Facebook. It seems people inside are desperate for millions of dollars instead of wanting to make a service that will be able to thrive for years, enhancing life and also making money.
The main problem is when people come inside that want to direct a business making it lose it’s higher purpose. I recommend reading the upcoming book by Tony Hsieh from Zappos where he explains his experience in detail and why wanting the profits is not good as a primary goal.
When Zuckerberg brought in people that made him lose his passion for Facebook and replace it with a passion for making the big bucks Facebook lost it’s path. It can be regained so I expect a change in the executives and in the way Zuckerberg is leading Facebook.
It may not happen and then Facebook might end up replaced by other service 3 or 4 years from now and end up as dead as Friendster.
Harshad Joshi said:
privacy [ˈpraɪvəsɪ ˈprɪvəsɪ]
1. the condition of being private or withdrawn; seclusion
2. the condition of being secret; secrecy
3. (Philosophy) Philosophy the condition of being necessarily restricted to a single person
This is a standard meaning of the word privacy.
If we observe the 1st meaning then its clear that privacy means to be private, not open to others.
The moment we start using facebook or any other commercial social network, this word privacy has got a different meaning. Privacy for facebook is like – ‘you can hide data from random people, but not from us, the facebook people, afterall, facebook stores your photos, scraps, email-ids, your groups etc on their servers, and once it reaches there, you lose control of all the data you have put on facebook, you cant say to facebook – delete my data”
A better way is – Stop using Facebook (or for that matter any other commercial social site) and create your own network using open source tools.
And lets be a little less paranoid.
Lets not overutilize time and bandwidth on facebook. Learn to socialize in real life. Meet old friends, say hello to your neighbour, greet new colleagues…it helps a lot.
Facebook and other sites just create an illusion of socialization, but the real thing is to meet all in person.
I have heard that laws and regulations in USA are very strict, why cant someone sue Facebook and demand control over private data?
Peter Reynolds said:
What? Good God! No! It can’t be! Someone talking common sense? No pseudo-intellectual, pretentious nonsense?
“…the real thing is to meet all in person. ”
Yes it’s true. It happened, right here, today. Someone said something sensible!
Well done Harshad. You restored my faith in people.
Spiro Spiliadis said:
There’s two perspectives on privacy and vulnerability with Facebook.
The first and most logical is the “factual” things such as our information, and protecting that from those we don’t want to have as friends, also having the choice to make when we want to deliver certain things to people. The privacy here we speak about is security protection.
Then there’s the emotional privacy, the vulnerabilities of people sharing their thoughts, feelings, hurts, happiness and so forth.
When Venessa say’s bullshit, i understand where’s she’s coming from, behind the scenes you have people orchestrating and using science to control the “situations” you have on facebook. They are reading “into” your conversations. This is what needs to be protected,
Who are the one’s tagging and filing this information, what are they doing with it, and are there honest people behind the scenes making sure that it’s protected.
As people tell their stories, as they heal, as they learn, they are releasing true emotions, moments, and this is being tagged, it’s being put under the microscope of neuroscience, psychology, scientific marketing,
Sounds like a conspiracy theory 🙂
Pingback: The Inevitable Facebook Post : Why Social Networks are the Internet’s Semi-Private Spaces « An Education and Technology Blog
Carla Casilli said:
Like you, I have been cogitating on the notion of privacy: I come out on the side of privacy as an aspect of social norms. Facebook is now attempting to rewrite what are customary and normal social considerations, i.e. cultural expectations that we as a group have created through years of social evolution.
I’ve been so disturbed by Facebook’s privacy alterations that I’ve written two posts about them in the last week or so. It’s been draining, and bizarrely the exact opposite of what I’m looking for when I join a social network. I don’t want to fight the tool I’m attempting to use; I want it to empower me through additional social options. If not, I believe that there are other tools out there that will do that. And if there aren’t, we’ll have to build them.
Some thoughts taken from my “Facebook is not your friend” post:
• Privacy is a socially constructed norm with a personally constructed implementation.
• Ideas about privacy implementation are quite often subjective and variable.
• Expectations of privacy are different in different cultures.
I cover the future of business and Fb in my “Facebook and the coming storm” post. A quote from that post, “I join social networks because I like the people who are on them.”
You can read both of these posts in full at my blog: http://carlacasilli.posterous.com
Pingback: Everyone is worried about Facebook | StrategyWorks
Doc Searls wrote an inspiring post on
Managing Relationships, Not Each Other http://bit.ly/bwKN7x #vrm #crm
Everything we do online creates information. That information has intrinsic value. The question is who gets to capture that value and monetize it. Facebook’s answer is that their corporation gets to monetize our information because we use their tools. The Open Source community’s answer should be that every individual gets to monetize his/her own information. To get there we need more tools.
Don’t waste time hoping Facebook will do the ‘right’ thing. They’re required to serve their shareholders, not the public. The only solution to privacy issues will be an open solution.
On the January issue of HBR there’s an article about how focusing on pleasing the shareholders over the customers or users has lead to financial and general underperformance in business. I think that the fact that “shareholders are first” is really questionable and that the established believe of it should be challenged.
The reason is simple. If your customers aren’t happy with you they’ll leave sooner than later. So there won’t be much value created for the shareholders to receive.