In Defense Of Facebook? A Response

by Matt Ridings on May 18, 2010

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Ben Parr, an all around good guy, who also happens to be co-editor over at Mashable, recently wrote an article entitled “In Defense Of Facebook“. He takes the stance that we should not be blaming Facebook for breaching our privacy expectations because that is our own responsibility, not Facebook’s. His primary point is this:

“The central problem is that people believe that Facebook and the web in general should be able to protect the information we post online. I argue that this is untrue, because it goes against the fundamental design of Facebook, social media, and the web itself. We should be relying on ourselves for our privacy, and not turning Facebook into our convenient scapegoat.”


OF COURSE people should believe that Facebook is able to protect their information posted online.  If they didn’t there would be no web as we know it.  The notions of eCommerce, email, instant messaging/chat, online banking, etc. could not exist without that belief.  This statement presumes to make the case that simply because Facebook (or any other social network) is a platform built to facilitate sharing that we should have no right to expect any controls over that sharing process, nor should we be upset if the provider of that platform chooses to change the rules of the game in midstream.  “Social” does not mean “everyone”.  The “fundamental design” of social media and the web is, and has always been, built on expanding circles of trust.  But hey, if you hadn’t posted that embarrassing information to Facebook you wouldn’t now be upset that they just exposed it to people you didn’t intend to see it right?  This is like Toyota saying “Sure, our brakes failed, but it’s your fault because had you not been driving a car in the first place this never would have happened.”

Imagine if you will..

To be more specific, imagine this scenario.  You arrive at work tomorrow to discover a very angry boss.  It turns out that Twitter decided DM’s were no longer private, and made them available to your circle of followers.  Yours happened to include a lot of very nasty things regarding said boss.  According to Mr. Parr’s argument that is YOUR fault.  If you didn’t want it to get out there, you shouldn’t have said it.  When a service or person sets a reasonable expectation of privacy, you have every right to expect them to uphold it.

Intent makes all the difference

It’s not just that they’ve constantly changed the rules and methods by which your information is exposed and used, it’s that there appears to be every indicator that the INTENT was to make sure that they could purposefully expose it.  The more information of yours they can use and expose to advertisers and services the more money they make.  Under the premise of giving you more granular control of your privacy what they have done is make sure that they can keep adding new privacy options that then circumvent the previous settings you used to have.  That is why there are now 50 privacy settings with over 170 options buried within Facebook.

In addition, with the new profile settings it has become even more blatant, you either agree to display attributes in your bio to the entire world or they are deleted.  There is no choice to selectively share that information anymore.  That is out and out blackmail, there’s no other term for it.  Let’s say you are gay and have a tight knit circle of friends who know this and it’s in your profile, but no one else knows, you now have to either let the entire world see that or delete it.  Facebook is telling you point blank that it wants everything you believe and do to be public, and that it will do everything in its power to push you in that direction.  Tell the world or delete it.

Big Brother Zucker

That new “Like” button you see on websites everywhere?  Did you know if you click on it you just gave that website access to your Facebook information?  Did you know that if you go to Yelp, Pandora, or any of the other new Instant Personalization partners of Facebook that your personal information is automatically made available to them…without you agreeing to it?  Did you know within the short period of time it’s been up it’s already been exploited and exposed those Facebook users information to the hackers?

Kicking The Habit

Facebook is addictive, and they are the crack dealer.  We all love it.  But are you really willing to keep doing business with someone who treats you and your private information this way?  Are your crops in Farmville that important to you?  I’m sorry Ben, but you’ve been sipping the Zuckerberg kool-aid, the notion that Facebook is just being used as a scapegoat is laughable.  Do we have responsibilities as well? Of course.  But we should be able to define those responsibilities within a reasonable framework of risk and trust.

Privacy is dead.” – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg has a vision for the future that he isn’t shy about sharing.  He wants everyone to share everything with everyone.  He may be right, perhaps the world would be a better place if we did.  But you can either convince people of that and lead them to the promise land, or decide what’s best for them yourself and drag them there whether they like it or not.  You be the judge of which camp he is in.


Social Guerilla – A Social Fresh Column

Matt Ridings (@techguerilla) takes a holistic view of integrated, social media marketing – provides opinionated commentary on social media news items – and dives into the societal and behavioral impact of it all.

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As CEO for MSR Consulting, Matt has the privilege to consult for a variety of progressive organizations ranging from name brand enterprises to nascent startups while leveraging his background as a creative problem solver and strategic thinker. Matt...