Posted by Paull Young | Posted in Internet | Posted on 30-04-2010
Christmas Day last year was the first time in history that Facebook attracted more traffic than Google. The Facebook bandwagon just keeps growing, but at the same time its biggest threat is looming on the horizon: privacy.
I recently blogged some Facebook privacy tips as I know that most users really don’t understand just how public their data is. As a marketer I’m a huge proponent of the benefits Facebook can bring for brands, as an individual I’m a big fan of having access to all my friends around the globe, but as a citizen I’m increasingly concerned about Facebook’s blase attitude to privacy.
Could privacy issues eventually kill the Goose laying the Golden Eggs? We’ll see… but in the meantime I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I read Danah Boyd’s typically brilliant keynote at WWW2010 ‘Privacy and Publicity in the Context of Big Data‘
The full transcript is absolutely worth a read, and I’ve pulled out some key sections on Facebook here to give you a flavor:
When Facebook first launched in 2004, it started as a niche social network site that was only accessible to those privileged enough to have a Harvard.edu email address. As it spread to other universities, it built its reputation on being a closed system. People trusted the service because they felt it provided boundaries that helped people navigate social norms. As it grew, it was interpreted as the anti-MySpace. While MySpace was all about publicly accessible content, Facebook was closed and intimate, a more genuine “place for friends.” As I roamed the United States interviewing teens and others, I was continuously told that Facebook was more private. For some, that was the precise reason that they loved the site.
First impressions matter and people will go to great lengths to twist any new information that they receive to fit their first impression rather than trying to alter it. To this day, many average people still associate Facebook with privacy. They believe that they understand how their information flows on Facebook and believe that they understand the tools that allow them to control what is going on. Unfortunately, their confidence obscures the fact that most don’t actually understand the privacy settings or what they mean.
During its tenure, Facebook has made a series of moves that have complicated people’s understanding of context, resulting in numerous outpourings of frustration over privacy.
Facebook is highly incentivized to encourage people to make their data more publicly accessible. But most people would not opt-in to such a change if they understood what was happening. As a result, Facebook’s initial defaults were viewed as deceptive by regulators in Canada and Europe. I interviewed people about their settings. Most had no idea that there was a change. I asked them to describe what their privacy settings were and then asked them to look at them with me; I was depressed to learn that these never matched. (Notably, everyone that I talked to changed their settings to more private once they saw what their settings did.)
Facebook has slowly dismantled the protective walls that made users trust Facebook. Going public is not inherently bad – there are plenty of websites out there where people are even more publicly accessible by default. But Facebook started out one way and is slowly changed, leaving users either clueless or confused or outright screwed. This is fundamentally how contexts get changed in ways that make people’s lives really complicated. Facebook users are the proverbial boiling frog – they jumped in when the water was cold but the water has slowly been heating up and some users are getting cooked.
Social Plugins and Instant Personalizer are more like Beacon than like News Feed. It’s not shoved in people’s faces; they don’t understand what’s happening; they don’t know how to adjust. When Facebook makes a change that’s in people’s faces, they react extremely negatively. When they make a change that’s not as visible, people don’t understand what’s happening until it’s too late. That’s a dangerous cycle to get into, especially when you think of all of the third parties who are engaged in exposing people without them realizing it.