Posted in The Wired Mom
May 11, 2010

Spin it, Facebook Exec!

Just a couple days ago, I posted my thoughts on the latest Facebook changes. While I tackled the privacy issues first and foremost, there are other concerns. All my interest information is public- and there’s no way to opt out of that, other than to delete it entirely. Not only that, Facebook adjusted how my personal data is used with advertising as well as how it can interact with other sites. Rather than give the opportunity to set those controls manually, Facebook assume that I’d want to join their new program and let my friends share all my information with websites.

So when I saw that the NY Times had Facebook Executive Elliot Schrage (vice president for public policy) sit down for a Q&A session in which he’d answer questions that they’d selected from reader questions, I wanted to see how he’d respond.

Not surprisingly, it’s a lot of spin. Trying to make a lot of bad response from privacy groups seem like not much of a big deal at all.

He says that their communication needs to improve, that there are misconceptions about the changes. True, and likely true.

However, there were some legitimate concerns that were brought up, that he dismissed. When asked why interests have to be shared, he essentially said that Facebook felt that interests should be shared publicly in order to facilitate a larger community. And that if you didn’t want everyone to know, then tough luck, you can delete it. However, the key part of that question was “Why can’t I control my own information anymore?“, which he dismissed. The answer is that Facebook has decided that building large networks is much more important than allowing you to put information on their site and gauge how much of it you want to share with the entire world. Obviously, I side with the person who posed the question. Part of the joy of Facebook’s privacy controls was that I could share public information about myself. My name, where I live, and a brief description. That was all I used to have public. It was enough for people to be sure that I was the Whitney they were looking for. All my interests, pages? That was for people who knew me. I likened it to getting to know someone. When you first meet, you likely learn their name, and maybe where they’re from and what they do. But its only after those initial introductions that you learn what their favorite bands are, what political party they belong to, and whether or not they think that fried food is evil. Why should it be any different on Facebook? Should I have to go around wearing a virtual shirt that lists everything about me? Facebook thinks so. That’s why my profile now only contains the information I mentioned I felt comfortable sharing with the world. I dislike his inference that by joining Facebook, my intention is to share everything about me with everyone- or to meet new people. For many, like me, it’s to find people I already knew.

Then, someone asked why Facebook requires you to opt-out of new changes, rather than opt-in. And he said:

“Everything is opt-in on Facebook. Participating in the service is a choice. We want people to continue to choose Facebook every day. Adding information — uploading photos or posting status updates or “like” a Page — are also all opt-in. Please don’t share if you’re not comfortable. That said, we certainly will continue to work to improve the ease and access of controls to make more people more comfortable. Your assumption about our assumption is simply incorrect. We don’t believe that. We’re happy to make the record on that clear.”

Everything is not opt-in. While yes, engaging in Facebook is a choice, as is adding information, he completely ignored what the question was clearly referring to, which is Facebook’s practice of adding new services (like their Instant Personalization Pilot Program) and signing you up for them. Or changing how their privacy settings are organized and taking the luxury of changing them to how most users like. Both, are actual examples of what Facebook did. In the latter example, Facebook almost immediately changed it to a pop-up screen that forced you to set them up immediately, but for some time, they simply made your changes for you. Just like they automatically set it up so that everyone joined the IPPP. I cannot say how disappointing it is that someone asked what they felt was a direct question about Facebook’s new services, and he intentionally interpreted it in another manner.

He repeatedly apologized for Facebook not being clear about their changes, but other than that- it seems that so far as Facebook is concerned, the line in the sand has been drawn. Either you deal with it, because it’s the way they see the world, or leave.

To Facebook, I would like to say this. You’ve failed, in ultimately assuming that everyone sees this Brave New Internet that you see- where everyone wishes to share all their information. Here’s how I see the internet- my persona is like me, living in my house. I let my friends know where I live, I invite them in. But at the same time, I also have blinds on the windows so that strangers can’t watch me change. Facebook’s view is quite literally a glass house. It might look nice, but not so much fun to live in.

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