What is It About Facebook and Privacy?

More specifically – what is it about Facebook and privacy that has caused such a controversy?

In the simplest of terms, it’s the constant attack on user-control (notice I didn’t say “lack of”, though I almost did) and their incessant need for world domination at the expense of user private data.

I don’t think I will ever get the words of Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO, out of my head from recent interviews during and following the F8 Developer Conference.  Without repeating verbatim what he said, it’s what I got out of it that really raised the red flag.

According to Mr. Zuckerberg, the world is becoming more social and they basically want to make it easier for users to do just that – be social.

OK, I get the ease of socialiability.  What I don’t get is how they can justify that because people are transiently “more social” it’s ok then to assume that certain bits of information are worthy to be released without user consent.

Take for instance the Open Graph format.  Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you should be aware that sites like CNN have begun to roll out a feature that will allow you to connect to Facebook via a “like” button, which basically means if you “like” a certain article and you press that button, it will post to your wall.

On the one hand I like the feature.  On the other, I might be one of the few and far between but, I kinda miss acknowledging that I like an article with say… 5 stars.  Maybe I don’t want it to show up on a feed of some sort and I just want to let CNN know that I appreciate the report, the information, the story, etc.

In another example, Facebook is working with some third-party developers in combining usability that will feature an interesting set of notifications, like which of your friends visited a restaurant recently (Yelp).  What if I don’t want my friends to know that I went to a particular restaurant?  Will they have a built-in to it’s application that allows me to opt-out if I don’t want that information blasted everywhere?  Somehow I highly doubt it.  Quite frankly, I think for Facebook it’s all about what they seem to think the majority of the public wants.

I have news for Facebook.  There are plenty of Facebook users that DON’T want any of this, that actually want to control their own settings – ALL of them.

The way I see it, Zuckerberg and his team are so focused on revenue generation that they don’t care that many social users prefer to control their own destinies (so to speak), as much as they can anyway.

I’m no dummy.  I get that whatever you put out there is never again private no matter how much privacy control there is.  All of our data is stored somehow somewhere.  The thing that really irks me is that *I* want to be the one in charge of (at least providing some kind of privacy to) whatever data I put out there, if for any reason other than to make it that much harder to find it. That’s not me saying that I have anything to hide; because I don’t!  Rather, it’s me saying, it’s an issue of control.  I should be able to control my own privacy. Period.

I hear cries of “Big Brother is watching.”  What scares me is that I already know that “he” is. Regardless, let’s not make it that much easier for the general public to as well.

I do have to give Facebook some credit.  They did listen to user complaints regarding default public settings in that now you CAN control who can see your friends lists, tags, & connections, not to mention what information you allow applications available to the public (or “Everyone”).  I have since gone in and updated all of my Privacy Settings for personal information and applications.  On the downside of this though, the default is “Everyone” for most of them.  I wish it were “only friends” so that I wouldn’t have to go through ALL of the settings to change the ones I want “Everyone” to be in fact, everyone.

There are a vast number of reasons in addition to user control as to why I believe there should be user-controlled privacy settings.  A few highlights:

  • stalkers.  Enough said.
  • the practice of shady practices by companies aiming to attain financial retribution for outstanding debts (I know of two cases where “friends” of “friends” were contacted in order to find the original “friend” for nonpayment of outstanding bills.  Yep, it’s true.  And it’s so wrong!)
  • cases of domestic abuse. Think about it, if a wife was being abused by a husband but the abuse began a year or so AFTER the wife opened a Facebook account (for the mere enjoyment of sharing personal stories with family) and that same wife found the need to uproot her life because of that, who’s to say the husband can’t still find out certain bits of information even if the wife “de-friended” the husband or she went so far as to delete her whole profile?  Again, that’s just wrong.

There are more examples but once again, it all comes down to user control.

Now, if you happen to be one of those folks that just don’t care, all the power to you!  However, for the rest of us, even you would understand that we do have a case for privacy (I hope.).  To each his/her own, right?

I recently toyed with the idea of deleting my Facebook account for many reasons but I’ll save that for another post.  As of today, I keep it going and I’ve set it to as private as I want it to be.  I continue to watch for recent developments from the folks at Facebook, reliable industry sources such as Mashable, and will make whatever changes I need to make accordingly.

Bottom line, I’m watching you Facebook.  Don’t let me down, please.

16 Responses to “What is It About Facebook and Privacy?”
  1. alebak33 says:

    Fabulous post Lisa! I think it’s a healthy conversation to have. I know for myself I got very “comfortable” with relating, that I didn’t realize how MUCH personal info I was sharing. Nicely written!
    ~Angel Lebak

    • lasullivan says:

      Thanks, Angel! That’s exactly it – it’s the personal info, the stuff behind the scenes that third-party developers get access to as well as the public without a user even knowing it. The thing that really got me was the collection agency calling a “friend of a friend” story. There’s no proof that the connection was because of Facebook but after assessing the possibilities, they were 90% sure that was the assumption.

      As I said, I get they need to make money but there are other ways in which to generate revenue. Think outside the box without jeopardizing user-data especially without the user knowing.

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. Dan London says:

    Who owns what you choose to put on Facebook?


    When the T&Cs are changed, does Facebook make you read and agree with them again?

    With stats like these:


    I don’t think Facebook is worried about losing too many people over privacy issues.

    • lasullivan says:

      Dan…I would love to believe that mutually *I* and *Facebook* own my data. I mean, I did make the choice to upload it because I trusted the service & essentially, I’m using their servers to hold onto it (my data). I never disputed that fact, but I probably should’ve made that more clear. So, thank you for pointing that out.

      In answer to your second question, it depends on what they are changed to (again). 🙂

      All I’m saying is I should have control (with the understanding that Facebook holds my data) for the most part and there has to be other viable ways to generate revenue than undermining their customers, which is what they are essentially doing. Even Congress & the FTC are getting in on the debate – http://news.yahoo.com/s/zd/20100507/tc_zd/250688.

      And with those stats, yeah, you’re right – Facebook may not be worried about losing too many people over privacy concerns. However, I think it would be who of them to at least give those concerns some actual credence rather than assume anything else.

      Thank YOU for your feedback too! 🙂

  3. Morgan Siem says:

    Many good points here. I think what it comes down to is that Facebook can, and unfortunately WILL, do what it pleases in order to generate revenue – often at the expense of its users’ privacy. However, we the people have the right to kick up a storm, speak our minds and even stop using the service if we feel that the violation is severe enough. There’s a balance of control here because while Facebook IS in control of the settings it offers, Facebook also needs us to opt in to using the site at all and to adding our personal data. What we don’t put on Facebook, isn’t in Facebook’s hands to disseminate. So, if Facebook can keep our trust, we’ll keep uploading our personal data.

    • lasullivan says:

      Thank you, Morgan. I agree with everything you said but one itty-bitty point – “What we don’t put on Facebook, isn’t in Facebooks’ hands to disseminate.”

      Sometimes, it’s not what we “don’t” put on Facebook in so much as what information is available to us once we do. For instance, the list of Friends. Unless WE make it private, it’s then public. We don’t “put” that information on Facebook. Rather, it’s information that’s automatically generated & visible. The most recent default was that that info was public. Now, thanks to a lot of whining & moaning, Facebook allows us to make it private again. You know what I mean?

      Perhaps I read your statement the wrong way? Perhaps you were thinking posting pictures, links, status updates, what have you. In which case, yeah, you’re most definitely right! I’m thinking more along the lines of what Facebook *decides* should be valuable information to share. I’ve even severely limited the info I put up in my profile section. I used to have quite a bit and then I re-vamped it because of that.

      I still can’t figure out how to remove “Favorite Quotes” from the default view. Not that my favorites are embarrassing. Quite the contrary. But, I haven’t figured out if there is a choice there. Am I missing something?

      Anyway, thank you for your feedback as well. I really hope the Powers That Be at Facebook are reading this post & its comments. That would be nice! 🙂

      • Morgan Siem says:

        Good point, Lisa! You are right. Actually, to add to your point, you also can’t control what pictures are posted of you by friends, nor can you decide who can view your friends’ images. You can control, to some extent, what images are tagged to your account, but not whether those pictures are on Facebook or not.

        Sometimes I wonder if they’re going to switch to an approval process – meaning that when someone tags a picture of you, they have to wait for you to approve the tag. This way, you don’t come home from work and find that the picture has been up and tagged all day before you can get to it and detag. What do you think?

    • Karl Sakas says:

      @Morgan: You’re absolutely right, about continuing to upload data only if Facebook keeps our trust.

      I don’t trust them much any more. Not to the point of canceling my account, since being on Facebook has a lot of benefits — but enough to delete most of my personal information, de-fan most Pages, and avoid clicking “Like” on anything new.

      I’m sure my prior information is all stored in a backup database somewhere, but stripping my profile sends a message of its own.

      • lasullivan says:

        Morgan…I would jump for joy if they switched the tagging to an approval process! That would be a step in the right direction for sure.

        Karl…”stripping my profile sends a message of its own.” Amen, brotha! I did some of that while I was figuring out what I’d keep as “everyone” and what I’d make “friends only”. And I feel the same way you do, there are so many benefits to holding a Facebook profile, which is why I haven’t deleted mine (yet).

        I’ve gotta finish Part 2 of this discussion – “Why I Haven’t Deleted My Facebook Profile….Yet.” I will asa p!

        Thanks again for the feedback!

  4. HeatherO says:

    I agree with you on many points Lisa. The one side of me wants to be able to post that I went out to dinner without that one judgmental family member reading it! 😉
    On the other hand, would it stand to reason that if I posted it, I wanted people to know?
    I also have to remind myself (and others) often that FB is not an NPO! They have a business that they have a right to profit from. They provide the service “free” in exchange for user data.
    It never ceases to amaze me how many people sign up for the “I won’t pay for facebook” groups then gripe about the changes they make to generate revenue!
    In many ways we have become a society of entitled mentality.
    It’s really no different than the recent war over school assigments here locally. Parents were screaming “you don’t have the right to tell us when our kids go to school” yet they gave the power to do so by CHOOSING government run “free” schools (although we know they aren’t really as they are funded by our tax dollars, but that’s another story).

    I saw the same thing for years as a paramedic. If you were on medicaid, you didn’t get to choose! When it’s free, you get what you get!

    Don’t get me wrong! I would love for it to be free and be my way! 🙂 Or at least have the opportunity to pay to have it my way! The reality is however, that we haven’t all declared mutiny or left FB in droves. We aren’t ‘voting with our keyboards” because FB gives us great value.

    Guess it comes down to “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”!
    There are trade offs in ALL things. The good news is we do get to choose what we value most 🙂

    • lasullivan says:

      You hit the nail on the head – “we haven’t ALL declared mutiny or left FB in droves.” Very good point! I completely agree.

      Let me address your “if I posted it, I want people to know” comment. I agree…to a point. Perhaps I want only a certain group of people to know what I post. For instance (and I have to give my friend Damond Nollan props for this example), what I like about Foursquare is that you can choose where you would like your check-ins to be posted – Twitter, Facebook, or both. Because of some of Facebook’s settings (i.e. default settings for pages are public), there is no choice. That’s my point.

      While I agree that Facebook has to make money, I just don’t think it’s necessary for Facebook to have THAT much control. I actually don’t mind if pieces of data ARE shared covertly. Go ahead and send what pages I like, restaurants I’ve recently visited, etc to third-party developers so that they can, in turn, turn that information into a customized advertisement for me. I’m OK with that. And if the deal is good, I might even take the advertised company up on their offer!

      It also drives me bonkers when I see those “I won’t pay for Facebook” groups either. I got news for many – the internet isn’t always going to be free. Shocker. I know! Like you, I would gladly pay a small fee if it meant that some of my data was kept private or that I could customize my version of what I’d like to share with the rest of the world. Actually, this brings up a whole other blog post that I’m preparing for later this week (hopefully) so I’ll stop there.

      Don’t even get me started on education. My philosophy there – only tax payer dollars pay for it. Perhaps if parents actually physically invested their money (paying a check by month, quarterly, yearly) like they do in private schools, they’d see a totally different educational system. I’ve worked both public & private sectors. Each of the private schools I was lucky to work with had the right system & I saw not only why parents paid the money they did, but also what it meant for them to physically make those payments. Their investment was duly noted by us and them! Again, that’s a whole other subject matter for a whole other post. Bottom line, you get what you pay for.

      Anyway, thanks again for your contribution to this post. I appreciate it & your insight as always. 🙂

    • Sing it, Sister Heather! HeatherO, you could NOT have better articulated my every feeling regarding use of FB and the privacy changes. The one thing I do think FB drops the ball on is not regarding them “exploiting” their (free and willing) users, but their lack of constantly informing each thing they have changed (clearly and in laymens terms) that we are (by default) opt-in. Outside of that, they provide tremendous service, and for all the ways people are constantly and deliberately trying to link various accounts, profiles, and websites, I think that what we post – for free – is us willingly giving our permission to be subject to their playing rules. Or we stop using it… and I do not personally know a single person who has done that yet.

      • lasullivan says:

        Ashley Sue…I agree completely that the value that Facebook provides through the ability to link various accounts, profiles, websites, etc. It is fabulous. That’s one of the many reasons I appreciate the service. So, I definitely don’t disagree there at all. Nor do I disagree with their lack of disclosure of the changes they continue to make, especially in layman’s terms! Absolutely 100% agree there too.

        What I do disagree with is what both you & Heather O have said regarding “posting”. It’s not so much about the posting as it is about the information behind it and the sharing of that information without user consent. That’s where it gets tricky.

        And don’t forget such things as what is made public by default (though they have FINALLY since changed that). Personally, I don’t want people knowing who my “friends” are because I don’t know what “people” are looking for that information.

        Again, I go back to the case of the businesses who engage in shady practices by researching who someone is related to in order to contact that person to contact the original person they are trying to reach (I know of two such examples of this!) or the wife who has been battered and bruised a year AFTER she opened her account & while she has left her former husband, he still has access to whom she’s talking to because they are “connected” (through mutual friends). At some point there has to be a opportunity for users to say “I’m sorry but I’m not good with having that information released.”

        Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) writes an awesome post about this subject as well – http://socialfresh.com/in-defense-of-facebook-a-response/. Well worth the read & sums it up nicely.

        Anyway, thanks for your insight as well, Ashley Sue!

      • You know Lisa, I see what you’re saying except I don’t dig the examples. If I’ve got debt collectors hunting me down because I owe that kind of money, or I’m a battered woman staying hidden from an estranged ex or his family, I’m deleting my profiles. Now, I know not everyone would do that. I know there are still reasons to want to have the profile. I know every single person has the right to be “friends” with whomever they want and not with whomever else on a FB page or whatever. But every right we chose to flex, we must accept and face the consequences. That includes losing privacy to your things. Even when you think you have privacy. If you put it out there, you must always accept you no longer have control of it. Period. Especially if it is a free service. You pay with something so they can make money from somewhere.

        Freedom of speech, for instance. I have the right to say whatever I want. Whenever I want. That does not mean I get to claim exemption from the consequences of what I choose to say. If I opted to “put it out there”, I opt to understand that whoever heard me can do with it what they will, for better or worse. Journalism 101. And to me, this is all the same.

        If we are going to consider privacy breeches, FB showing who my “friends” are to other people, or opt-in default linking to my Pandora profile to show people what songs I like… well, these are far less horrific and invasive than what Google Buzz did. And even then… I shrug and say, OK, I didn’t like that move, and I will be part of the outcry in order to hope Google changes some things, but really, the responsibility is on me to be 100% accountable for the information I post and to be aware that it can be used against me in a variety of ways, and by a number of unsavory characters. Trust me. As someone who’s dealt with a stalker, one whom I have proof still lurks (and to the extent or how often, I will never know), I am very aware that putting ANYTHING out here can be of detriment to me. And I choose to continue my profiles accordingly.

        C’est la vie.

  5. lasullivan says:

    Karl…I see we think on similar levels. GREAT article but I particularly love this quote –

    “I have no desire to run a multi-billion dollar company but “prompt user protests and a PR firestorm every time you update your product” isn’t exactly a sustainable business strategy.”

    Couldn’t agree with you more!

    Thanks for your reading. 🙂

  6. Karl Sakas says:

    @Lisa: You’re right, Facebook doesn’t seem to care. As I wrote last month, they don’t seem to have anyone on staff to represent their users: http://karlsakas.com/facebook-needs-an-ombudsman/

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