The internet has been ablaze this week with discussion around the impact of Facebook’s announcements at the f8 conference last week. Effectively Facebook has dismantled the walls between it and the entire web inviting conjecture that the entire web will become social and that Facebook is making a bid for control. From a user’s point of view the issue at the center of the storm is privacy, or more specifically, the ability of third party sites to access user profile information when that user clicks the Facebook ‘Like’ or ‘Recommend’ buttons that will now populate the entire web.
Dana Boyd explored the critical issue of social privacy in depth at SXSW only two months ago (why does that already feel like a lifetime in this real time world!) stressing that its our responsibility to consider whether someone wants their personal life shared beyond the extent to which they chose to share it themselves. For example, whether personal photos published on Facebook or twitter should become the sport of the public domain.
Not surprisingly, the new features of Facebook have inspired a variety of reactions. Some see evil in it, like MG Siegler at TechCrunch. Others are fed up with the appropriation of their privacy by Google and Facebook like Daggle. There are those that question such sinister concerns such as Dan Costa and Mike Melanson at ReadWriteWeb. And somewhere in between there are those like Ian Paul at PC World who took a more tempered approach by simply showing others how to effectively opt out of the over-sharing bonanza (for now, at least).
Like any Facebook user, I have my concerns. I recently shared my fears that Twitter’s promotional Tweets would pollute the social ecosystem. This week’s announcement by Facebook dwarfs such concerns. Yet there are other issues to consider. So much of this information is already public that we may be crying over spilt milk. The opt out approach used by Google and Facebook is hardly proprietary or new – it’s standard marketing fare. And before we point the finger at the Facebook, shouldn’t we consider the fact that we’re the ones who chose to participate by taking our private lives public?
What Facebook is doing is big stuff. Huge. There’s no doubt about that. It has the potential to affect everyone and everything on the web. Yet given the choice between guarding my privacy and stemming the socialization of the web, and embracing it for the positive potential it holds, I choose the latter. That is in no small part due to the sensitivity and priorities demonstrated by founders such as Mark Zuckerberg, Biz Stone and Evan Williams so far. (Facebook went so far as to wryly include an ‘Evil’ button as one of the color scheme options. Clearly they knew this wouldn’t be a cake walk.)
I believe these founders take their custodial role very seriously and know only too well that betrayal is the launch pad for their replacement. Moving forward I shall manage my privacy as best as I can and keep my eye on the great things that may come from an internet that is not just a web of information but a global community aligned around shared values. I believe Facebook is simply enabling the inevitable evolution of the web, and while the tireless battle between openness and privacy will rage on, we can’t imagine what kind of world the social web will unfold.
How do you feel? Do you feel like Facebook is betraying your privacy? Or is this issue a storm in a tea cup? Simon Mainwaring