The Problem With Facebook’s Latest Change

The latest “Instant Personalization” news with Facebook has me a bit irked.  I’m still sitting on my heels until I can figure out exactly how I feel about it and what that entails, but at the moment, all signs point to me deleting my account and calling it done.

Privacy is both a sticky issue and a balancing act:  we get greater benefit out of sharing information, but we have to balance that benefit against the privacy we give up and the information we give out.  My friend posting that they liked a book is an acceptable transaction on the surface by any count:  by sharing their information, I get a recommendation that I know I can count on (or at least from a known source that I can judge accordingly).  The beneficiaries of this exchange are the first circle of influence: my friend’s friends, of which I am one.

The wider the net cast, the less use any of its catch really is.

Herein lies another problem:  we have so many connections, so many “friends” that really aren’t in our first circle.  How many people do you have friended on Facebook?  100?  200?  500?  We have so many friends and so much posting to our feeds–so much raw data–that we need filters to manage it all.  We need something for our social media that resembles what search engines were to the web:  a way to handle the vast amount of “stuff” that acculmulates.  For now, filters do the grunting and sweating.

What makes this worse are the very privacy control tools up for offer: many controls are based around the idea of who gets to see what.  To block our data to the world, or from being slurped to some marketing site, we must restrict our data to “friends only”.  Which means that any person I meet and want to connect with must be added as a friend so that they can see my data.  Once friended, we might even filter each other out to keep out the noise and only check up on them every now and again.

Do I really need the recommendations of 500 people, most of whom I’ve probably met only once?

I also reject every facet of the whole “It’ll improve your experience!” angle:  never rely on someone with a vested interest in your money or your data to tell you how awesome something will be.  If I want recommendations for music to listen to on pandora, I’ll ask my friends directly.

* * * * *

Some people are arguing that “information is always available” anyways.  The angle usually goes, “I spent five minutes and, based on your name and state, found an address and phone number for you.”

So what?

Data is available.  It’s the age we live in.

The key and over-arching privacy concern here–of which this Facebook update is only one example–isn’t whether it’s available or not, it’s about the ease of access.  What was once spread throughout the internet–on a county website here, state website there, university website over there, on this social media site and that social media site–is coming closer and closer to being in less and less disparate places.  It’s the net effect of our sharing this and consolodating that and making everything available.

Websites already track our movements and our data.  A key difference here is that Facebook becomes a crossroads of data between websites and companies.  Something that used to be more difficult.

Total security is impossible.  Real-world usage and effect is based on the effort required.  The locks on your front door aren’t 100% effective in any case, but they make the barrier to entry so much higher as to be mostly effective.  The same thing goes in the high-security world:  expensive locks don’t make things permanently secure.  Medeco locks and whatnot carry a sort of “time to last” rating:  they’re guaranteed to resist break-in for a certain amount of time, which allows a response team enough time to handle the situation. They set a relatively high barrier to entry.

What used to be more difficult now becomes easier because Facebook provides the info in one place.  It would be like merging all of the data from county/state/university/etc sites into one spot and then providing access to it.  What might take you 5 minutes of creating Googling is reduced to a couple web requests over the course of a few automated seconds.  The barrier to entry gets bulldozed.

* * * * *

It’s also about who’s in control.  It’s not just about having to opt-out, which is bad enough.  One of my most major complaints can be found here:  “How do I opt-out of instant personalization?”

To prevent your friends from sharing any of your information with an instant personalization partner, block the application

This goes way beyond the Huffington Post’s twitter disaster, too (which, by the by, we all agreed to in Twitter’s ToS).

That was a dumb mirror of stuff you’ve specifically already posted.  This Facebook change represents a concerted effort to aggregate and then do something with it.  That something is aimed straight at you.  And, like a vampire at your door, you invited it in.

This is also a new high (or is it low?) in the whole online privacy mess because my friends are capable of sharing my info, as well.  I might have given them access to read my updates and data, but I most likely haven’t given them permission to divulge that information to someone else.  To block that, I need to go into my settings and specifically block each app.

And if they release another site/app under this feature?  Why, I have to go in and block that one, too.

Assuming I hear about it.

I guess the alternative is something like this:

To: You Guys

From: Ron

Subject: Friday night?

Message:  Hey guys, so I’ll see you all at Bob’s house on Friday, right?   Oh, and by the way, please don’t leak my data all over the ‘net.  kthxbai

I think the biggest indication of this being bullshit that this is opt-out (if you can call it that) instead of opt-in.  Even if I bought the “oh, but it makes your experience BETTER!” line, opting every single person in for it by default is misleading at best and underhanded at worst.

Let me decide what will enhance my experience.  At it’s core, that’s what the internet is all about:  people finding neat / useful things and then spreading the world.

If it’s useful, you can trust that I’ll hear about it without you enrolling me in it out of the gate.

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.