Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Life Without Online Privacy

Despite the invitations and cajoling of many friends, I put off joining Facebook for quite a long while. And then I caved.

I've enjoyed connecting with dozens of people I would not have located otherwise, but Facebook's inconstant privacy policies and questionable use of private information is getting under my skin.

Writing at Ryan Singel comments,
Setting up a decent system for controlling your privacy on a web service shouldn’t be hard. And if multiple blogs are writing posts explaining how to use your [i.e. Facebook's] privacy system, you can take that as a sign you aren't treating your users with respect. It means you are coercing them into choices they don’t want using design principles. That’s creepy.
More than a dozen consumer advocacy groups have filed a complaint about Facebook:
Facebook now discloses personal information to the public that Facebook users previously restricted. Facebook now discloses personal information to third parties that Facebook users previously did not make available. These changes violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations. These business practices are Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices.
Thankfully, privacy-minded "nerds" are creating open-source alternatives, including Diaspora*.

As The NY Times explains,
The Diaspora* group was inspired to begin their project after hearing a talk by Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia University, who described the centralized social networks as "spying for free" ... The four students met in a computer room at N.Y.U., and have spent nearly every waking minute there for months. They understand the appeal of social networks.
About a month ago I reduced my Facebook profile information dramatically. Today, I'm thinking of contributing to Diaspora*.

Would it be hard to start over on a new social network? Maybe.

Would I regret it? Doubtful.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) offers a handy chronology of Facebook's evolving privacy policies, which every user would benefit from reading. In short:
As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it's slowly but surely helped itself--and its advertising and business partners--to more and more of its users' information, while limiting the users' options to control their own information.
For more about online privacy, see the EFF's privacy page.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Excellent post with excellent timing. A gentleman was just asking me about Facebook and privacy yesterday. I'll send him to this next time I see him.