Facebook and Privacy

Facebook's recent rollout of "personalization" has privacy advocates up in arms. While many of the complaints are directed at Facebook's wholesale change in privacy settings and the fact that they have made it impractical for consumers to control their personal data, and a vocal few are going ad-hominem on Zuckerberg, I'm struck by the asymmetry of passion on both sides of the issue. A passionate handful disagree so violently with the new policies that they are modifying their profiles or deleting them all together. And those who are less concerned suggest that Facebook isn't to blame, and  common sense should prevail.

Facebook is trying to change the role it plays  on the Internet and in the lives of its members. Becoming the default public profile service online and personalizing the Internet aren't bad ideas. Many companies are trying to build businesses on these ideas. But Facebook's implementation of these ideas is tacitly forcing, through implicit opt-in,  several hundred million people into a new set of services about which they know nothing.

This isn't uncommon in other aspects of life. Insurance, ISPs and credit card companies routinely change policies and the terms of engagement with the most passive notification to consumers. Lists are sold and resold.

But this is Facebook. A place where people "friend" each other and where people routinely discuss leaving the office early for a beer or their frustrations in the workplace. A place where people post pictures of their families and discuss medical issues. Why do people share this content? Because, it's human nature. Facebook is a social network designed to encourage sharing.

Facebook's stance is that the age of privacy is over. I disagree. People do share more. But people deserve to understand and control how what they share published, particularly in the context of a network that purports to be closed. Unless there is a change of course, these policy changes, when applied across a user base of five hundred million,  will have ´╗┐effects in the lives of many people.

Several hundred million people just got poked.

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