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David Lee King

Facebook and Privacy – is this REALLY a big deal?



being of two mindsI’ve seen lots of posts on Facebook privacy issues the last couple of days, some taking about sharing, some about privacy, some just confused about the whole thing. Me? I’m of two minds about Facebook and privacy.

So I ask – is the privacy you [think you] have on Facebook REALLY that big of a deal?

On the one hand, of course it is. They should at least TELL you they’re going to do something before doing it. And they should let you opt in, rather than forcing you to opt out.

We are, after all, their bread and butter – no people, no Facebook.

On the other hand …. what are you trying to keep private on Facebook, when it comes down to it? Let’s take a peek at what you can share [or not] in Facebook:

First, there’s the “update me with your stuff” things, like status updates, new photos, and new videos:

  • If you want those to be private, you shouldn’t post them. Period.
  • Hello! Nothing’s private on the web. Even on Facebook.
  • If you want to share a status update with just some people, you can do that. Which is more than Twitter gives you.

Basic info, like:

  • Name: um … don’t open a Facebook account if you don’t want to share your name.
  • Gender: That’s rather apparent, isn’t it? Is it bad that you know I’m a guy?
  • Birthday: Hmm. I don’t really care. Should I?
  • Relationship Status: OK – so I have a recently divorced friend, and it was rather painful to watch his relationship status go from married to single to it’s complicated … back to single, etc. Maybe a case of sharing too much info, rather than one of privacy. So if your life’s on a rolloercoaster ride … don’t fill that one out.
  • Current city: big whoop. Google already knows this.
  • Hometown: That’s sort of important when connecting with past schoolmates.
  • Religious and Political views: I have em. So does everyone else.

Work and education:

  • Seeing that I have my resume online and brag about what my library does all the time, this obviously doesn’t bother me.

Likes and interests: stuff like music, movies, etc.

  • Oh man. You’ll find out that I like U2, Fountains of Wayne, and a weird, old-school christian alternative group (Daniel Amos Band). Will my life be ruined if you find this out? Nope. Will yours? I’m guessing not.

Contact info: So … the whole POINT with Facebook is to connect with people …

  • email: already published in many places online, including my website.
  • Mobile phone number: Not had a problem yet.
  • AIM, GTalk, etc IM: Already out there
  • Website URL: I want that shared.

Your friends list:

  • Is it bad that you know who I’ve friended? I don’t really think so. Then again, I’ll probably friend you if you ask, just for kicks.

************

Ok. It really doesn’t bother me that you know some or all of this stuff. At the same time, I DO know how to hide certain things – for example, most of my contact info is only available to Friends (as in people who friend me).

But – isn’t all this sorta beside the point? My basic contact info is already scattered all over the web. In fact, it was BEFORE I even had a Facebook account. My resume’s online. These days, I tweet, flickr, and Youtube you guys like crazy. So if you really want to know more about me, you can – with or without Facebook.

Want to talk about privacy? How about that credit card all of us plunk down in front of lots of 20-year old strangers every day at the mall or Walmart or a restaurant? Besides the kiddo who now has access to your credit card (not that anything’s ever happened to my credit card yet), every time you swipe, that company finds out more about you. Or how about your cell phone – your phone company knows where you are. Or Google? All those searches you just did? Yep. Google knows you.

Facebook and my taste in bands or what I said in a little text box? Not really on my radar.

How about you?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Steve Watkins

    Thanks for this common-sense piece, David, you echoed my thoughts as I recently reviewed my Facebook privacy settings and decided that very little really needed to have more restricted access or wasn't already readily available out there somewhere else. Sure, it's a good idea to be prudent about our birthdates and what we post, and I couldn't agree more about opt-in versus opt-out, but if someone else discovers that I'm another of those closet librarian deadheads, who cares?

  • http://libraryunderworld.wordpress.com/ anankaf

    I go back and forth about it. I agree with your point that it is either out there, or it doesn't really matter that it is out there. BUT there are teens and older people using Facebook who don't understand as much about this stuff. They are posting things that might harm them in one way or another.

    And then there are articles like this: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/10065

    that just make me want to scrap it because Zuckerberg is a jerk.

  • http://www.beyondslicedbread.com/ taxonomylady

    I agree with @anankaf that part of the problem is one of education. If people don't understand their privacy settings, then they simply can't take responsibility for their information. As someone who considers myself fairly savvy (I teach a class on Facebook privacy!), I have to admit that I do not fully comprehend (or perhaps it's more about trust) the current FB privacy settings.

    The other issue for me is one of tolerance. We can learn a lot about people in a very short amount of time, and some of these people are colleagues or professional contacts that may never have learned our taste in music or our religious views before the advent of social media. Unfortunately, it is very easy for people to make snap judgements about a person based on their “likes”. It's almost as if we're now realizing that people are human, because we now get to see a bigger picture of humanity. The problem is that we don't know what to do with that information.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post!

  • http://twitter.com/webgoddess Robin Hastings

    That's a great post, David – and exactly my thoughts on the matter these days as well. The only thing I'd add is that you are one fight away from having your “private” contact information copied by a friend and pasted to the web at large – and that goes for any “private” information that you post anywhere, not just Facebook. I agree that Facebook should be more “opt-in” with privacy changes – they've mishandled things on that end – but folks should be aware (and part of our job as information professionals should be to make them aware, yes?) that *anything* that is put on the web should be considered one small step away from the front page of the NY Times.

  • http://twitter.com/mdrabik Michelle Drabik

    Agreed, plain and simple.

  • http://librarianbyday.net Bobbi Newman

    David Part of the problem has more to do with Facebook changing the rules in the middle of the game than the information that is or isn't shared. It signed up for X and they changed it to Y. It is bait and switch.

    I linked to a couple of articles in my blog post yesterday that address your statements better than I probably can, so I'll quote them.
    http://librarianbyday.net/2010/05/what%E2%80%99… that address this.

    Nancy Baym addresses the issue of how “If you want those to be private, you shouldn’t post them. Period.” misses the point of the problem, stating:
    “(4) If you don’t want it shared, don’t share it.
    Setting aside the assumptions of privilege that this claim entails (like the legitimate safety of marginalized and oppressed people who should have a right to affiliate though social networking sites without fear of being identified as dissidents, GLBT, etc), ‘if you don’t want to share it, don’t post it’ completely misses the point. The willingness to disclose all our data to marketers should not be required to socialize. Imagine if AT&T said “we’re going to track all your calls and all your networks and we’re going to store keywords you mention and personal connections in your profile we’ll sell to others so we can insert ads before and after your phone calls.”

    You're right you can tweak your privacy settings but with Facebook continually changing them and making them more convoluted, harder to understand their methodology is questionably at the least.

    As danah boyd points out – “The battle that is underway is not a battle over the future of privacy and publicity. It’s a battle over choice and informed consent. It’s unfolding because people are being duped, tricked, coerced, and confused into doing things where they don’t understand the consequences. Facebook keeps saying that it gives users choices, but that is completely unfair. It gives users the illusion of choice and hides the details away from them “for their own good.””

    Wherever you (meaning anyone not you specifically) stand on the privacy issues I think we call can agree that questioning the privacy practices of any company is a reasonable and smart move. Especially when that company has a history of regularaly and without notice changing the rules. There is no organization government or otherwise keeping their behavior in check, it is our responsibility as users to question it.

  • Mike

    As a father of a toddler I am a bit paranoid about what information on my Facebook account is shared. I really don't care for Facebook to make it difficult for me to understand where to change what setting. As a parent its my right to be paranoid (anyone who says differently probably has never been one or their kids are older)

    I don't personally agree with the “the default is social” attitude with facebook. I would think a social network would help me connect with the people I want to be connected with. Having said that there are other options out there so for now I simply have turned everything off on Facebook only to my friends.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Definitely you're right! That's why I don't post much stuff with my kids
    in it. FB is a social network, hence the default is always social -
    even if you make that “social” just your real friends.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    “David Part of the problem has more to do with Facebook changing the
    rules in the middle of the game”

    It's no bait and switch – it's their game. They created the rules, and
    have every right to change them (just as you have the right to not
    play along).

    “Imagine if AT&T said “we’re going to track all your calls and all
    your networks and we’re going to store keywords you mention and
    personal connections in your profile we’ll sell to others so we can
    insert ads before and after your phone calls.”

    That's exactly what Google does with search, email, feeds, etc. No
    one's boycotting them. Just sayin.

    “Wherever you (meaning anyone not you specifically) stand on the
    privacy issues I think we call can agree that questioning the privacy
    practices of any company is a reasonable and smart move. Especially
    when that company has a history of regularaly and without notice
    changing the rules.”

    Definitely agree here. Other social sites tend to warn people before a
    switch – Facebook let's you know after-the-fact. To me, that's the
    main problem.

  • http://theantiquarianlibrarian.blogspot.com Dan Nieman

    People are overreacting to the Facebook privacy changes. Personally, I decided long before I signed-up for Facebook. The buzz about Facebook's changes is more about a backlash to the popularity of Facebook. I subscribe to a few privacy oriented blogs. These have legitimate concerns, because that is their passion. But for those of us who have been out in the social media marketplace for some time, we know 1) There are privacy concerns on the web. Take the necessary precautions; 2) That informationon the net has a life of its own and 3) When you are using any social networking site, assume that everything is public, because platforms and settings are often changed without our knowledge.

  • http://theshiftedlibrarian.com Jenny Levine

    Comparing Facebook to Google is a red herring because Facebook is sharing that stored information about you with third-party sites without the consent Bobbi, Danah, etc., alluded to (Yelp, Pandora, The Washington Post, etc.) In fact, I saw recently that 100,000 sites are using the FB “like” infrastructure now, so your likes and activity are being broadcast pretty much everywhere, and there isn't anything you can do about it. I'm sorry, but that *is* a big deal.

    There are reasons to give users granular permissions, and it's because not everyone is like you. Think like your neighbor who believes Google is the only search engine out there, not like a techie or early adopter. Your information is scattered across the web because you purposely let it be, but the vast majority of Facebook users don't have blogs, Twitter accounts, Flickr accounts, etc. where they've already made information public. Their Facebook profile is their main web presence, so starting out with one privacy policy and then doing a total 180 is just plain wrong when the new settings are the default. I'm an early adopter who understands the settings (after a lot of reading up on them), and FB *inserted* likes for me when I removed all of mine. Apparently I can't have *no* likes, which are then going to be shared with the world, no matter what I do, short of deleting my account.

    Sure “social networks” are “social,” but FB keeps changing the definition of that word. And obviously I define “social” differently than you do, because I limit my definition to my friends, while you're okay with that stuff being disseminated to the whole world and aggregated by third-party companies.

    Ultimately, I shouldn't have to conform to your definition, and you shouldn't have to conform to mine, so the middle ground should be FB giving us controls that let us each set our comfort level. Instead, they've implemented your definition and taken away mine, making for a pretty one-sided playing field.

    *You* may not have reasons for wanting to show your friends list, but other people like me do. I hope you can concede that others may have reasons to take a different approach than you do (or maybe they just *want* to be more private). If you can, then I think the title on your post is a little insulting. If you can't, I'd love to explore further why not.

  • http://librarianbyday.net Bobbi Newman

    “It's no bait and switch – it's their game. They created the rules, and
    have every right to change them (just as you have the right to not
    play along).”

    They offered us a service with X level of privacy then, once we were hooked they switch the level of privacy to Y without any notification. That is bait and switch. Sure its their game but its a sneaky underhanded game. One they try to cover up by claiming they know what is best for us and hiding behind complex language and settings.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Jenny – thanks for the nice response – appreciate it!

    You said “I think the title on your post is a little insulting” – I
    didn't mean much by it, other than putting my thoughts out there, and
    asking the question to see what others think.

    “I hope you can concede that others may have reasons to take a
    different approach than you do” – most definitely.

    “Instead, they've implemented your definition and taken away mine” -
    have they really, or is it mainly that they moved everyone over to
    their definition, forcing everyone to opt out of that 3rd party
    sharing thing? Because you can (supposedly) turn that stuff off if you
    want to.

    “starting out with one privacy policy and then doing a total 180 is
    just plain wrong when the new settings are the default” – that, to me,
    is the biggest deal with this whole thing. The usual thing to do is to
    build it but allow people to turn it on if they want to. Facebook
    didn't do that.

    With the whole Facebook sharing your likes and activities thing – just
    curious. Were those “made up” likes that FB added for you, or were
    they really your likes? Because FB states “When you visit a
    Facebook-enhanced application or website, it may access any
    information you have made visible to Everyone (Edit Profile Privacy)
    as well as your publicly available information.”

    Are you saying that doesn't work? Cause that would be bad.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    Fair enough, and interesting too. That's the general response I'm
    seeing – that whole “it's not fair, you pulled a bait and switch thing
    on us.” That “knowing what is best for us” thing is definitely
    bothersome, to be sure. I have to wonder where they got that idea -
    who did they poll? Cause yeah – I DO agree with you – most 2.0-ish
    companies that want to stay afloat don't switch stuff like that – they
    build something new, then allow you to join, make the switch, etc.

    Though I think this is a first – I can't think of another social
    network that has changed privacy settings on people. The next few
    weeks should prove to be very interesting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rob-Banks/1287247262 Rob Banks

    As a moderately savvy tech user, I agree with those that are often surprised and befuddled by changes made by FB. I'd rather they did the notification thing differently. In my opinion, it would build a stronger community for them, but apparently they don't believe that part. I also agree there are a lot of people out there using this and other networking tools that don't understand the playground. Growing up in the middle of the last century, we were frequently warned about a whole list of things: don't take candy from strangers, don't get in a strange car, don't tell people on the phone that mommy is not home, etc. These were uniform and constant reminders to children as we matured and learned to survive in the world. Perhaps, this is where we are failing our current generation of “new users” in not better telling them the rules of how to play successfully in this new playground. In many ways, the rules haven't really changed, but the number of people playing with you has greatly increased. The only people that were sure of my taste in music were the people that lived in my house and maybe the neighbors! Now, potentially, the whole world knows what I like. The music is a rather benign example; but makes the point. Is there a way to use social networking tools to better educate new users on these issues?

  • http://theshiftedlibrarian.com Jenny Levine

    Great conversation, David. :)

    I know you didn't mean for the title to possibly come off as insulting, but I think the all caps “REALLY” is what tipped it for me. Just sayin'. ;)

    I think we're saying the same thing about moving the privacy line. I didn't mean to imply it was yours; just that their definition matches what you're willing to allow more than I would.

    To be honest, I'm not 100% sure what I can and can't block anymore. I'm pretty sure I blocked Yelp, Docs.com, and Pandora when all of this started, but when I go to my privacy settings now and look at “applications and websites,” it says I'm not blocking any apps. This is part of the deliberate obfuscation that we're all upset about.

    Again, I think you and I agree about that, but I'm still confused why you chose the “REALLY” caps and nonchalant attitude if you believe the 180 is wrong. For me, wrong is wrong, and giving Facebook a pass by saying it's just “some” information and your stuff is already public elsewhere anyway seems to condone their actions, rather than call them into question. Maybe I just didn't read a strong enough stance in your post; sorry if that's true.

    As for the likes, I didn't have anything at all listed under “music” in my profile, so FB mined pages I'd fanned and inserted “library science” and “Shanachie tour” in that field. So while there is some link to those topics from my profile, they hardly qualify as music, let alone interests I'd “like” in that category. I also don't make my music interests public, but I can't tell if I appear as one of the people who “likes” the LS band. I know I do to friends, but do I ever show up as one of the six people who likes them to non-friends? More obfuscation.

    Overall, I've made everything I can private to just friends, and yet these third-party sites are constantly showing me stuff from my FB friends, whether I want to see it or not. I don't really have a good way to test what others see, either friends or public. As a result, I've resorted to logging out of FB before surfing, although I was glad to see I passed the http://reclaimprivacy.org scan.

    Based on my own experiences, my answer to your question is that yes, this really is a big deal.

  • http://www.davidleeking.com davidleeking

    “I know you didn't mean for the title to possibly come off as
    insulting, but I think the all caps “REALLY” is what tipped it for me.
    Just sayin'.  ;)”

    I can see that, I guess.

    “To be honest, I'm not 100% sure what I can and can't block anymore.”

    Sounds like FB's going to be making the whole privacy setting thing
    easier within a couple of weeks, so you should know soon, I hope!
    That's my biggest gripe with Facebook – why don't they ask a small
    group of users first, and maybe test stuff out on them? Other social
    networks do that – I've been a beta tester before.

    “Again, I think you and I agree about that, but I'm still confused why
    you chose the “REALLY” caps and nonchalant attitude if you believe the
    180 is wrong.”

    I'll try to explain. I DO think their 180, after-the-fact thing is
    wrong. But I also think that most of the outcry is a bit “the emperor
    has no clothes” – because what most people are wanting to keep private
    are things like their taste in music, where they went to school, where
    they work, and their name… to me, all pretty innocuous stuff to be
    in such a huff about that someone would want to delete their account
    over it.

    So you're right – I'm not taking too strong of a stance. My strongest
    stance would still be this – if a someone doesn't want something
    shared, then they shouldn't share it. Period. Or, at the least, they
    should figure out those privacy controls and lists so they CAN share
    stuff with true family and friends, and not with the world.

    “As for the likes, I didn't have anything at all listed under “music”
    in my profile, so FB mined pages I'd fanned and inserted “library
    science” and “Shanachie tour” in that field.”

    Wow – now that's just weird.

    “Overall, I've made everything I can private to just friends, and yet
    these third-party sites are constantly showing me stuff from my FB
    friends, whether I want to see it or not.”

    Hmm… I wonder. There's that “don't let friends of friends share your
    3rd party info setting. I'm guessing if they haven't set theirs to not
    share then you'd still get their stuff? Not sure.

    “Based on my own experiences, my answer to your question is that yes,
    this really is a big deal.”

    Cool – glad to hear it, and glad that there are a wide range of
    viewpoints on this issue, too. And apparently Facebook is listening,
    too, which is good. I just wish they'd figure out how to listen before
    the goof-up rather than after-the-fact. Here's hoping!

  • Peter

    I also try to avoid putting things out there about my kids. So I'm bothered by the fact that OTHER people post things about my kids, including photos of them tagged with their names. It seems that either they assume that because I'm on FB, I don't mind this kind of sharing, or they are just unaware of why this might be a concern.

  • Jenny Reiswig

    I deleted everything from the interests section of my profile. Partly it was because I was annoyed about the bait and switch of making everything public. But mostly, it was because Facebook completely borked that whole section. I had lists of books, movies, etc., and then in their latest revamp they turned everything from text into a link, and where they couldn't find a link to the exact thing, they just made stuff up. They broke up band names, they even split words. For example, instead of being a fan of the (excellent) book Earwitness by Elias Canetti, I was now a fan of a random book called Witness. And so on. They didn't just bait and switch my private information, they actually wrecked it.

  • http://michaelkpate.com Michael K Pate

    I have tons of stuff about me online. Most of it was created by me. So I have never really minded what was on the my Facebook profile. But I really think I am an extreme edge case.

    “When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them.” – Mark Zuckerberg, 2006

    “”Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. Facebook has succeeded so far in part because it gives people control over what and how they share information.” – Mark Zuckerberg, 2007

    In response to a question about how sites like Facebook deal with privacy and its impact on society, Zuckerberg talked about how people had control and were only sharing the information with the people they want to. A huge amount of users are tweaking their own privacy settings, he said. – 2008

    “But we’re always trying to be better and do more for our users. Clearly, we need to rethink the tempo of change and how we communicate it. Trust me. We’ll do better.” – Elliott Schrage, 2010

    The question is, how many times does Facebook get to say they made a mistake before everyone quit believing they either can or will change their way of doing business?

    I stripped a lot of information out of my profile the other day – not because I was worried, but I wanted to make a point that it was the only way I could control it. When they give me control over what “likes” appear on my public page, I will start using them again. Until then, I have erased all but one. I left a link in for a project my brother does.

    http://www.facebook.com/michaelkpate

  • Lorre Smith

    Danah Boyd also says: “If Facebook wanted radical transparency, they could communicate to users every single person and entity who can see their content. They could notify then when the content is accessed by a partner. […] When people think “friends-of-friends” they don’t think about all of the types of people that their friends might link to; they think of the people that their friends would bring to a dinner party if they were to host it. When they think of everyone, they think of individual people who might have an interest in them, not 3rd party services who want to monetize or redistribute their data. Users have no sense of how their data is being used and Facebook is not radically transparent about what that data is used for. Quite the opposite. Convolution works. It keeps the press out.”

    I've given up my facebook account because I can't trust facebook to use the data for the purposes I gave them the data.They've changed the purposes altogether so I've changed my mind and they aren't getting anymore data directly from me.

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  • Shane

    Gender's fine…. except where people don't fit into the traditional gender dichotomy or are in the process of transitioning from one to another.

    And with birthdate being used so often as a verifying security measure for things like bank accounts, I'd rather not thanks

  • http://blogs.bcr.org/publiclibraries/ Justine Shaffner

    Great post David, I completely agree w/ you – maybe it's because I don't have kids to worry about (e.g. revealing too much), but so much info about me is on the web anyway – this way at least I get to put it there! But I do agree w/ Jenny, it really got me mad when they took away all my interests unless I linked each word to somewhere on FB, but hey, I wanted my likes out there so I did let them link – would have been nice if I could have put some of my own words in there – I (at least) thought it was more interesting that way – but that's their perogative.

  • Too Late

    Facebook privacy should be the least of everyone's worries. There is so much data out there that your anonymous internet searching can still be matched up with your personal identity. If you care about privacy, you should not be on the internet. Anyway, the internet is not secure for crying out loud! I can also find anything I want about anyone by Googling you, examining free public data, observing you, pulling credit files, hiring a private investigator, purchasing your data, etc. Gasp, here is an incredible technique … I can talk to your family, your coworkers, your neighbors and EVEN YOU in RL and more people will talk than you think. If that is not enough you not seem to care about the information you share in public each day … the overheard phone conversations, the 100 public and private cameras you passed today, the raffle you signed up for at the fair, the crap you bought at Target, the copies that you made on the copier, your bumper sticker, etc. The best solution to privacy is to remain unemployed, have your meals in, stay off the internet … you certainly should not bank, be insured, be seen in public, pay taxes, start a business, get married, have kids, etc.

  • JoAnn Funderburk

    You and I appear not to care what we fill out on our INFO page. However, what I do care about is FB making changes to my “interests” and placing other pages representing my “likes” in my FRIENDS list. I haven't given FB to add to my FRIENDS list, yet they took it upon themselves to do so. I have resorted to removing my likes and interests and deleting those pages from my “friend's” list. The real issue is giving the user the choice when these types of changes take place and not surprising with the changes the day that they take place.

  • JoAnn Funderburk

    You and I appear not to care what we fill out on our INFO page. However, what I do care about is FB making changes to my “interests” and placing other pages representing my “likes” in my FRIENDS list. I haven't given FB to add to my FRIENDS list, yet they took it upon themselves to do so. I have resorted to removing my likes and interests and deleting those pages from my “friend's” list. The real issue is giving the user the choice when these types of changes take place and not surprising with the changes the day that they take place.

  • http://www.cygnismedia.com/ Facebook Applications

    Blogs are good for every one where we get lots of information for any topics nice job keep it up !!!