Zuck You!

The web is abuzz with news about Facebook and the backlash following its recent changes to users’ privacy settings.  What started out as a few griping voices has grown with each rollback of users’ private information, and is now a sizeable angry mob.  It’s gotten so bad that even big names in the tech world are abandoning the network.  Apparently the news has finally struck a chord within Facebook itself, and the staff held an all-hands meeting to determine what to do about this thorny issue.  Will we see a turn for the better in the social networking giant’s privacy policy?  Perhaps a new layout that makes controlling your data as easy as it is comprehensive?

Not bloody likely.

Here’s the thing: For better or worse (and I’d argue for MUCH worse,) Facebook has built its business model around selling people’s personal lives to interested parties.  This is not limited to eMarketers, either: Remember that Russian governmental agencies and the American DoD/DHS have been major investors in Facebook since its college days.  Indeed, it seems like the list of people who get backstage access to your information is something out of a dystopian nightmare:

  • The government (yours and others), who could potentially combine it with the Patriot Act and have carte blanche to make anyone disappear whenever they want.
  • Creepy stalkers, who will have even greater ability to stalk you once you turn on the forthcoming location feature.
  • Potential employers/business partners, who can use anything from your profile as a convenient excuse to fire and/or not hire you.
  • Marketers, who want to slam you with annoying ads and sell your tastes and preferences to other marketers.

Consequently, people (such as I) have been removing anything even remotely specific or potentially controversial from their Facebook accounts, in preparation for the next privacy rollback when they make more things public without our consent, and possibly our knowledge.  Indeed, it calls to mind that famous poem “First They Came…” but replacing Nazis with Facebook’s strategic managers.  This is almost as bad for their business model as people deleting their accounts outright, since a profile devoid of product-specific information is next to useless from a marketing perspective.  I’m gearing up for my eventual exodus, but it’s very difficult to cut away roots that I’ve been building since 2005, back when it was still TheFacebook and unique to each college/university in its network.  These days college students can get their University-specific social networking fix from ConnectU (which Zuckerberg allegedly ripped off to create his site), but the rest of us are still struggling to find a suitable alternative. [EDIT: My mistake. ConnectU has gone under. What a world!] Myspace could potentially redeem itself and shake off its yoke of corporate control, but given Rupert Murdoch’s history with tech-forwardness, that’s highly unlikely.  Instead, people seem to be sinking their hopes into Diaspora*, a project being undertaken by a few ambitious NYU grads/students to create an open-source, decentralized (and fully user-controllable) social networking platform. Interest in their project has already secured them over $100,000 in investment funds (more than TEN TIMES their projected goal) and expectations are running high.  Hopefully these young upstarts can succeed where Google Buzz arguably failed (which is a shame, since I still like so many of Buzz’s characteristics) and deliver a social networking experience where we don’t have to be afraid to be ourselves.

Here’s a game you can play along with, readers!  I’m going to list all the features that I’d want in a replacement social network.  You list yours in the comments!

  1. Ability to make and organize personal connections (kind of the key to a social network)
  2. Status updates (possibly pulled from Twitter)
  3. Photo storage and tagging
  4. E-invitation system
  5. Blog-style message publishing (or ability to import from blogs)

P.S.: If you’re concerned about your own privacy on Facebook, I strongly recommend that you visit this site and take advantage of the privacy-checking tools they offer.

P.P.S.: Here’s an entertaining video of tech guru Leo Laporte deleting his Facebook account during a live podcast:

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2 Responses

  1. I’m thinking about running away from all tech, ever.

    The thing that gets me about Facebook is that they are banking on the inertia quality. People like my dad are probably not going to migrate to another network. If they get rid of their Facebook accounts, they’ll just go back to the Old Way, because who wants to continually transfer info and data every few years when a site gets so big it violates your privacy? But, those people probably will stay for the convenience factor. And then people like me will have to maintain a Facebook connection in order to communicate virally with those people.

    What I want is something clean. I never liked Myspace, because it was too cluttered. I like Facebook’s interface. I’m just not down with their data-mining. Really, I want a Facebook revolution and for me to be able to really sit on my own inertia!

    I love the title, btw!

  2. I know exactly where you’re coming from regarding the “inertia” effect, and it seems to be that Facebook is leveraging the heck out of it (since it’s pretty much all that stands in their way from going the way of Orkut/Friendster/Myspace.) The idea behind Diaspora* is that it will be sellout-proof, which makes it a VERY enticing option and a potential “last stop” for social networking. And while it’ll take a long time for moms and grandmas to make the switch, part of the fun of Facebook in its glory days was that those people WEREN’T on it! After all, how open and honest can most people be when they know their Nana could potentially be reading their status updates?

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