Many people are outraged about Facebook's recent changes that further erode the ability of Facebook users to control the information that they share. Others are not convinced that it's important. I would argue that it's very important, and that if Facebook wants to stay in business, they'll figure out how to make money and respect people's privacy at the same time.
First, a quick recap of the changes. These changes have occurred over the past months. The changes are not easily understood. This is my best effort at understanding how things work now.
1. "Instant Personalization" - Facebook is now partnering with sites that will yank your publicly available information and use it to immediately personalize their site for you. The first three sites in this program are Pandora (Internet radio), Yelp (local business listings and reviews), and Microsoft Docs (Microsoft's answer to Google Docs). Even if you opt out of Instant Personalization, your information may end up in Microsoft's hands anyway if one of your friends uses MS Docs. You have to block each "Instant Personalization" individually to prevent this from happening.
2. Facebook is now encouraging websites to put Facebook "Like" buttons on their sites. Instead of "sharing" things you find on the web that you think will interest your friends, you indicate that you "like" them, your friends will see that, and that information will be added to your Facebook profile. When you click "Like," you will see how many Facebook users have already done the same - including the names and photos of any of your friends who have already done so. If what you "Like" fits into a certain category, it will be added to your profile - so movies that you "Like" end up in the "Movies" section of your profile.
3. Facebook users no longer become "fans" of celebrities, products, organizations, etc, that they are, well, fans of. Instead, they are also "Likes." The Pages that represent these "non-user entities" are "public" now - you cannot hide them. In Facebook's own words, if you don't want to be known to be connected with something or someone, you should "un-Like" it. So if you don't want anyone to know that you really, really like pancakes, your only option is to indicate that you don't "Like" pancakes anymore.
4. On one's Facebook profile, prior to recent changes, the "Info" tab would be filled out by users. It contained their hometown, work and education history, as well as their interests - preferred music, movies, television shows, etc. That, too, is all gone. Instead of filling out a text profile, everything is filled in with your "Likes." Your hometown, work, education history, and interests are all connected to Pages now.
Your existing text-based connections (like the college you went to) and your interests are converted to connections with related Pages - so if you had Nirvana listed as a favorite band, you now "Like" the Facebook page for Nirvana.
If one of your entries doesn't already have a related Facebook Page, you are connected to a filler page with Wikipedia data (if available). For example, entering "Prefer to Forget" under "High School" (as I did) no longer works, because I was connected to a Facebook Page for "Prefer to Forget."
5. All of your "Connections" - everything that you "Like" - is public information. It may not show up on your profile, depending on your settings, but you will be listed as "Liking" that Page on that Page's data. If you "Like" pancakes, your name will show up on the "Pancakes" page. In Facebook's own words, if you don't want to be known to be connected with something or someone, you should "un-Like" it. So if you don't want anyone to know that you really, really like pancakes, your only option is to indicate that you don't "Like" pancakes anymore.
For more information, see the EFF's helpful "Facebook-to-English" translator:
And for help in changing your privacy settings, see the EFF's handy guide:
The anger about Facebook's changes has been loud enough to enter the mainstream, including ABC News, CBS News, National Public Radio, the Huffington Post, the ACLU, the EFF, MoveOn, and four U.S Senators. But not everybody is convinced that these changes are a problem, or that they are worth debating or worrying about.
One comment argument is that Facebook is free to users. I don't think that excuses anything. Facebook makes money through targeted ads - and that's fine! But constantly eroding user's privacy and ability to control their own information is unacceptable, particularly when it's opt-out instead of opt-in. And Facebook already has a history of eroding privacy.
Others have argued that if you don't like it, don't complain - just don't use Facebook anymore. I don't like that argument either, because it basically boils down to either accepting whatever Facebook wants to do, or cutting yourself out of the loop completely. Facebook has proven to be a fun and useful tool for a lot of people. It helps people with certain disabilities engage with others when they normally wouldn't be able to do so. It helps people connect with others for any number of great reasons - political, cultural, social. No longer using Facebook is not a good option. I think there's a middle ground available - forcing Facebook to behave more ethically.
The third common argument I have seen is that if you're concerned, you should remove anything on your profile that you don't want people to see. The problem I see with this argument: social networking is, at least in part, about finding other people who like the same sort of things that you do and being able to communicate about them. Facebook has proven to be a boon to political campaigns and social movements. But sometimes you don't want the whole world to know about your political and social activities. Do you give up using social networking - do you give up the power of this great tool - or do you control it so that you can use it without the whole world knowing everything about you?
There are three things that bother me about the recent developments on Facebook.
2. Unless you take a series of steps to turn it off, your activities around certain parts of the web will become public knowledge.
People don't necessarily want everything they do available to the world, but the combination of making Pages public with making everything into a Page means that you cannot partake in any activity on Facebook without it being indexed and visible via a Google search. Further, Facebook's partnerships ("Instant Personalization") is opt-out instead of opt-in. In other words, in order to prevent Microsoft, Pandora, or Yelp from finding out anything about me, a user has to take a number of steps. The EFF put together a handy guide:
But as the EFF writers note, this procedure will have to be repeated each time Facebook adds a new partner.
3. Your Facebook profile can no longer contain any information of value about you that you want your friends to know, because it's all gone public. If you leave the information there then anyone can find out all sorts of things about you, and then use that information against you.
This, in my opinion, is the biggest problem with Facebook's recent changes. In the United States (I cannot speak to other countries), it is completely legal for organizations and companies to discriminate against people based upon political ideology, political affiliation, and political expression. It is legal in most of the United States to discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. It is completely legal to discriminate against people based upon perfectly legal activities that they may engage in, like enjoying a beer after work, or what people do during "sexy time." This issue has been well-documented by Lewis Maltby, the former ACLU Director of Employment Rights. See his website:
In other words, folks - there's nothing stopping your current or future employer from looking you up on Facebook (or finding your Facebook profile on Google), finding out that your politics don't match theirs, and then firing you or denying your job application. This sort of thing is already happening - employers are admitting that they check Facebook as part of a "background check."
There's nothing to stop the Boy Scouts from refusing to accept your kids if they find out via Facebook that you sympathize with LGBT issues. There's nothing to stop Sam's Club from denying you membership (or yanking your membership) if they find out that you "like" the AFL-CIO or the Teamsters. If your Facebook account includes your views on abortion rights - either way - that information could be used against you. Your views on any number of things - if you have them on Facebook - could be used against you when:
*You are seeking help from a charity
*You are seeking help from government
*You want to join the Armed Forces
*You want to donate to or volunteer for a charity
*You want to join a community group or club
*And who knows what else?
So what are your options? You could delete your Facebook account. You could stop using Facebook for political or social movements. You could wipe your Facebook clean.
Or maybe…just maybe…you like Facebook. You could put up a fight. You could tell Facebook to do a better job of listening to their users. You could tell your elected representatives that you don't think it's fair that people can be fired or denied jobs based on legal activities that people do in their private lives. You could *fix* Facebook and make it more safe and more free.
What do you think? What do you want to do?
MoveOn's petition to Facebook to respect user privacy:
A Facebook user group: "We hate the new profile page…please change it back!"
Huffington Post article: "Zuckerberg's Privacy Stance: Facebook CEO 'Doesn't Believe in Privacy'
Facebook group: "How to permanently delete your facebook account."
EFF article: "Facebook's 'Evil Interfaces'"
PopMatters article - "Mandatory social networking" by Rob Horning
Article at LawyersandSettlements.com Blog:
NPR's All Tech Considered: Debate Continues Around Facebook Privacy Changes
Politico: Senators' letter to Facebook
Design Doc: "Figuring Out Facebook" by Melissa A. Venable
Made all the URLs into hyperlinks
Senators urge Facebook to protect user privacy - LA Times Comments Blog
Muddiest point week14
5 years ago