Facebook and Has the Internet Established Unrealistic Expectations for Privacy?

Let me start off by saying that I am, for the most part, a typical Facebook user who gives no thought to my privacy settings after the initial setup and until I hear it all over the news.

Since it has been all over the news, I thought I better read about it. And I did. I read a very interesting article on Wired.com called Facebook’s Gone Rogue; It’s Time for an Open Alternative.

I found the article very interesting and am glad it brought some very good points to my attention. But, I couldn’t help but catch some slight discrepencies in their logic.

The Illusion of Online “Privacy” –

The article states, “In Facebook’s view, everything (save perhaps your e-mail address) should be public” and then it goes on to share a quote from Matthew Ingram at GigaOm, “And perhaps Facebook doesn’t make it as clear as it could what is involved, or how to fine-tune its privacy controls — but at the same time, some of the onus for doing these things has to fall to users.”

I thought that latter quote was a pretty valid statement but then the original article article continued by questioning it:
“What? How can it fall to users when most of the choices don’t’ actually exist?
I’d like to make my friend list private. Cannot.
I’d like to have my profile visible only to my friends, not my boss. Cannot.
I’d like to support an anti-abortion group without my mother or the world knowing. Cannot.”

This is where I had to scratch my head a little bit. I mean, I do understand what’s being asked here and the next sentence of the article does follow to that point, “Setting up a decent system for controlling your privacy on a web service shouldn’t be hard.”
But… is it a little unreasonable?

I mean, let’s go back to pre-internet days. If I wanted to have a “private friend” I would have to go out of my way to make that friendship private. I couldn’t walk through the mall with that friend and then complain to mall security that any other person in the mall could see I was friends with that person.

Along those same lines, I couldn’t say that only other friends, or even strangers, could see me at the mall with that friend and not my boss if he happens to visit the mall when I’m there.

And if I’d like to support an anti-abortion group without my mother knowing, I’d have to move away from home or rent a PO Box to receive the mail that would likely come from a group that I support.

Granted, those are just examples they chose to use and not their entire argument, so I don’t want to trash their argument based on a few examples. But the examples just seemed so silly and  based on pretty silly ideas and expectations of privacy.

Just how much “privacy” can we or should we expect?

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to control privacy on my online accounts just as much as the next person.

But I think we need to unveil this whole illusion of “privacy” on the internet in the first place.

We’re starting off on the wrong foot if we think the internet, particularly the SOCIAL network realm, is or once was supposed to be private. We’re also starting off on the wrong foot if we think non-internet life is more private.

Although the internet and mass use of internet certainly makes data collection and mass marketing easier, these aren’t new concepts and very much existed before the ‘net. And sure, people complained about it then too. But this isn’t a new argument here and Facebook is hardly commiting a new crime if a crime at all.

The Illusion of Online “Identity” –

I also had to chuckle when I read this statement from the article, “We want easier ways to share photos, links and short updates with friends, family, co-workers and even, sometimes, the world. But that doesn’t mean the company has earned the right to own and define our identities.”

No. It doesn’t mean that. But I don’t believe it has to be saying that. Unless your identity really is wrapped up in what bands/activities/movies/random statements you “like” or “become a fan of.”

Actually, I read in another article that Mark Zuckerberg said it pretty well himself, “You have one identity… The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” (2009).

And even if this could be an attempt at justifying his own actions, it seems like a very reasonable statement to me. More reasonable, anyway, that a lot of complaints that are currently being thrown around.

Again, I really am not siding with Facebook here. I don’t think they are doing things necessarily right or even if their actions are somehow justifiable, they certainly aren’t going about them in the best way.

I just think the other side needs to think through their argument a little more and make sure their expectations are reasonable.

The Illusion That I Know What I’m Talking About –

And as a closing note – since I realize this article is about a HUGE issue on which I have only read a handful of articles (i.e. I’m talking ignorantly here), I made a point to go check my privacy settings on Facebook.

I found my privacy settings very quickly (quicker than I have found how to add a picture to a photo album when I haven’t done so in a while) and found them to be very clearly laid out and straightforward. I walked through each of the areas and modified any settings I felt I needed to modify within fifteen minutes (and that included deleting a bunch of apps and pages that I no longer used.)
Actually, in the process, I was pleasantly surprised at how many privacy options I did have.

(Now maybe here the argument is that I shouldn’t have been surprised by those but should’ve known about them to begin with, but my retort is be happy with whatcha got even if it means you have to go figure out what you got for yourself.)

…But then again I already started writing a post (or rant, rather) on the lack of independent thinking in our world and the frustration I have with people wanting to be spoonfed…


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