Facebook, Privacy and Responsibility

Jun 03, 2010


Let me start by saying that myTooq is obviously a far cry from having the user base of Facebook. In fact, it’s a far cry, a distant yelp and a scream over yonder all put together. I just finished watching this interview with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and I find it very interesting.

First off, I’ll clear the disclaimers. Yes, I have a FB account and Tooq maintains a FB page. While I have been heavily annoyed at the continual shifts in terms of service and privacy setting updates that have been made, the service still provides a service that I’m not yet willing to quit. I actually didn’t join FB until I was required to by a testing/product management job I had, where I was working on a semantic, social search plug in that was using Facebook Connect. We were able to leverage people’s social graph to return ranked results inline with Google, Yahoo and Bing results, based on what your friends had saved. I had resistance to using the site before then, simply based on my preference to maintain my personal privacy.

Anyways, after joining for the purpose of my job, I did start to use FB as a means of connecting with friends and family, but I kept my profile locked down pretty tightly. In the year and a half I have been a member of the site, I have seen two changes to the terms of service and somewhere between three and five (I’m guessing) changes to the privacy settings. Now, certainly a company that grows from zero to ten thousand to a million to four hundred million users is going to have some serious growing pains. I expect that changes to the service are going to be made and FB is never going to be able to make a change that makes everyone happy.

I will even go so far as to say that Zuckerberg’s dream of “The Open Web” is an interesting idea, ambitious and in some ways, maybe even pretty cool. I personally don’t care if CNN can  tell me that friends of mine liked a specific story. I personally think it is a little bit creepy and definitely invasive. And I certainly don’t want my friends knowing what sites I have been visiting. That’s simply none of their business. That’s why I post interesting links to my FB wall when I like a story. It is an explicit action. I know that I’m sharing that information with my friends (or the world, depending on my settings).That being said, that’s not even my issue with FB and Zuckerberg. There is plenty of commentary around the web on this subject and I don’t have anything really new to add to the conversation.

My issue with FB is the breaking of the trust that most people that signed up before the latest round of changes had. People signed up believing that they were joining a service that would allow them to connect with people of their choosing and avoid connection with people they did not want to engage with. Watching the above video (and I’m aware that there appears to be a lot of edits), what I see is a twenty-six year old man, sweating buckets and wearing armour made of corporate speak (bullshit actually). If Mark actually believes that everybody should share, why do I still have the option of blocking someone or ignoring friend requests? Maybe this is just an unfortunate remnant of the former offering. What good is ignoring a friend request is my info is search-able on Google by anyone unless I explicitly opt out of sharing my info?

I’m not saying that FB cannot move towards the idea of an open web. With 400 million users, they have the power and are a logical entity to try it. What they need to do is be open, honest and direct about the changes they want to make. They have a responsibility to educate each and every non-techie user of the service what an open web might mean to them personally and how to keep private information safe (HINT: don’t post it on the internet). They have the responsibility to ensure people are opting into the changes, not forcing them to opt out of the changes. I don’t disparage their efforts to monetize the service or to try a social experiment on a scale so grand, it could have never before been attempted in the history of humanity, on the condition they be up front about it and accept the responsibility for it. In this video, I see a man who is trying to pull a fast one to make millions in revenue before the masses figure out that the personal web is great, only if you have granular control over what is shared. The idea is worthy of the effort, but only if the responsibility and accountability are fully understood and accepted.

What the video shows me is a man-boy, living in a closed environment, drinking too much of his own kool-aid, with too many yes men around him. As the privacy on FB continues to erode, there will come a point where I will encourage those important to me to migrate to another service that has more respect for their user’s intelligence and ability to make decisions about what they want to share and with whom.

A couple of last thoughts:

1. What if Google decided tomorrow that all of the data they have about who searched for what, gmail, Buzz, Google Docs, etc was going to be made public, to “Encourage an open and personalised web”?  I might share Google Docs with people the same way I choose to share with people I choose on FB. Would this be that different?

2. If Mark is so open to the idea of me sharing my information with the world, why does his personal Facebook account not even show up in a search on FB? I see a Page, in the same means that Tooq has a page, but his personal account is not even listed. I though that what was good for the goose was good for the gander?

3. I’ll likely re-read, edit and refine this post over the next day or two. I might even delete it as it really doesn’t pertain to Tooq in any way. As the CEO of a small company, I just see what I consider grave mistakes on a young CEO’s part that I’m trying to understand. We’ll see if the post stays or not.

As always, Thanks for reading,


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