Facebook Responds To New Privacy Problems

    December 16, 2009

While many people already lie on their Facebook profile despite the pleas by Privacy Czar Mark Zuckerberg to keep the Facebook database clean for YOUR benefit, it is now an informally ‘recommended’ practice by some at Facebook. Before we move forward, let’s put this on the table first. Facebook’s move toward less privacy for its users may have profoundly changed the service once the full scope of what they are looking to do hits the masses. It will be hard to look at the service without seeing them trying to squeeze every last dollar out of it at the expense of the privacy and safety of its users.

Do I sound upset? I am. You see I have a child that loves Facebook. Because I am involved in the industry I have been able to lock down my child’s profile to the best of my ability. The friends of my child though now have lists of other kids that are on display for everyone to see. That everyone includes those with good intentions and those that see the new Facebook ‘privacy’ as a pervert’s WalMart SuperCenter of data to carry out their deviant needs. Over reaction? When it comes to the safety of a child be it mine or anyone else’s there are no over reactions.

So how does Facebook suggest you move forward? According to a TechCrunch report one option is to violate the Facebook’s own ‘voted on’ terms of service.

At least, that’s what Barry Schnitt, Facebook’s Director of Corporate Communications and Public Policy, told the Wall Street Journal in an article this evening. From the story:

Facebook also made public formerly private info such as profile pictures, gender, current city and the friends list. (Mr. Schnitt suggests that users are free to lie about their hometown or take down their profile picture to protect their privacy; in response to users’ complaints, the friends list can now be restricted to be viewed only by friends).

Back to my real life example, the WSJ article makes the point

But those who want a private experience on Facebook will have to work harder at it: if you inadvertently post a comment on a friend’s profile page that has been opened to the public, your comment will be public too.

Now you have to police whether your friends are private with their profiles if you say something to them that you would rather not have broadcast. This could get complicated quickly. So complicated, in fact, that some may throw their hands up and just walk away.

As for the ‘lie to protect’ policy. Mr. Schnitt backpedaled fast in an attempt to avoid a media snit about his intentions.

I think WSJ is paraphrasing. What I said is profile picture and current city are optional. You don’t have to include a profile picture or you can include a picture of your dog or anything you like. Similarly, you don’t have to indicate your current city or you can indicate that your current city is “Atlantis”, “Valhalla” or, again, anything you like. We hope people will use accurate information if they are comfortable doing so because that information helps them to be found by their friends, which is part of the point of joining the site.

So let’s sum this up. Facebook puts a default ‘privacy’ policy in place that is private in name only. They claim that 50% of the users have already made changes to their privacy profiles (which is difficult to believe but I will give the benefit of the doubt). That only leaves about 175 million people walking around with their Facebook kimono wide open to the world.

Is there anything good coming out of this? Is the need to have real time data and marketing information worth the risk of being ‘wide open’ with your data? Of course, there is the option to not be involved at all which is a valid argument. If that were the case though, and a lot of people walked away, then just how valuable does that Facebook data become when it only represents a certain kind of user? Is this the start of Facebook’s move to a MySpace type of case study in what not to do to stay on top of the social media world?

So your thoughts are welcome and desired. Be warned: We expect you will tell the truth but what’s a few lies between friends?