June 3, 2010
Posted by Bill Herman
(I’ve been MIA for months now, but I just submitted my grades and am finally writing a loooong overdue blog post.)
A Hunter alumnus asked me (on Facebook, no less):
Any thoughts on the most recent “privacy concerns” regarding facebook?
For starters, let’s put it this way: I gave the Diaspora project $25 and will soon proudly be rocking their T-shirt.
Also, you can drop the scare quotes. It should creep everyone out how easy it is to cyber-stalk anybody with a FB profile who doesn’t watch the company’s privacy moves like a hawk. People who joined early and kept everything limited to “just friends” but didn’t update their settings have now had what they thought was private information laid bare for the world to see. This is not just immoral; it borders on fraudulent, and it’s potentially dangerous.
Lokman Tsui, a dear friend and U Penn classmate, killed his FB profile, and I fully support and understand his decision. I’m thinking about doing the same, but the costs and benefits are diminished in my case; my wife will continue updating me about our family and friends, as well as telling the world when we’re out of state.
This issue isn’t going away. In his public statements on the issue, FB chief Mark Zuckerberg is incredibly cavalier and uncaring about his users’ privacy. (Listen to this interview on NPR. The opening exchange is incredibly revealing:
Melissa Block: We’ve been hearing these protests getting louder and louder. There’s a “We’re quitting Facebook” campaign on the net. Did this level of user anger catch you off guard?
Mark Zuckerberg: You know, whenever we launch products, a lot of people like the products, and a lot of people are critical, and I think that’s just something that comes with having more than 400 million people using your service. So what we try to do is we try to build the products that we think are best, and then we listen to what people are saying, how people are talking to their friends about the product, what they tell us, the emails that they send us.
What we heard loud and clear this time was that people wanted simpler controls for how to share their information. We spent the last few weeks building those. It was a pretty big effort, but we really wanted to make sure that we were responding to the feedback that we were hearing, so that’s what we rolled out.
By the way, I’m still on Facebook for 2 reasons. First, I’ve always tried not to post things I consider truly private. This is because I was a Ph.D. candidate before the service launched, so my friends have always included a large number of colleagues, making me think twice before I post.
Second, and more importantly from a policy perspective, is the problem of network effects; the service is much more valuable than its competitors because many more of my friends and family use Facebook–and they keep using it because their friends and family keep using it, and so on. Walking away from Facebook is basically walking away from the social networking hub.
The size of the network and the centrality it plays in so many people’s lives makes it really scary that somebody with such apparent disregard for users’ best interests is in charge.