The Facebook Privacy Row – 1

Facebook Privacy Settings

Facebook Privacy Settings

Isn’t the Facebook privacy row a fascinating piece of anthropology?

Mark Zuckerburg presents himself as a geeky regular dude who just created a really cool app for his friends. Here he is in the Washington Post:

Facebook has evolved from a simple dorm-room project…
Mark Zukerburg

However, many Facebook users think he’s made of cunning, harvesting our personal information for his personal gain and  saying  “aw shucks, my bad” when people object. There may be no contradiction here, given the gap between a person’s view of themselves and the effect they have on the world. Wired sees naiveté ascending into arrogance,  a third interpretation which may also be true.

But isn’t the normitivity of Zuckerberg’s and Facebook’s approach intriguing? They say they want to change the world, but it seems they want to change us. They express surprise whenever users point out other assumptions are available. The problem, they hint, is our secretiveness and inability to use the privacy options. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we did like our moms told us, and shared nicely with others?

What they hint, Scobleizer states. He thinks we should get over ourselves and accept that privacy is dead. Indeed he thinks that a desire for privacy is downright suspect:

Just what are you doing that needs to be so damned private? Are you having sex inside Facebook? Doing illegal drugs? Cheating on your wife?

… which suggests either a blessed lack of complexity in his life, or a complacent sanctimoniousness.  He argues that Facebook is at its most useful when it is wide open, and opens his profile wide accordingly. But he is disingenuous, and has a more personal personal account.

Facebook shows a parochial lack of imagination for a service which is already global: there’s fluffy talk about peace and connection, but a lack of respect for diversity or acceptance that different folks want different strokes.

What I find interesting is the underlying assumption that openness is good, that  we are old-fashioned meanies who just “don’t get it” when we say “my data is mine, not yours Mr Zuckerberg, and no I don’t know you well enough to call you Mark”.

Here’s my real question:

Are Zuckerberg and Scobleizer culturally naive? They wouldn’t be the first Americans to think of the rest of the world as the 51st state. Or is the naiveté just PR for the punters as Facebook backs slowly and cynically away from a strategic position that’s increasingly unpopular and no longer compatible with a geeks-of-the-people, guys-with-integrity act?

Here, incidentally, are some more geeks-with-integrity who are developing an open-source alternative to Facebook, with privacy built in by default.

Colour me world-weary but it will be interesting to see if they are still as squeaky clean 3 or 5 years from now.

PS – I’ve no idea if I’ll post on this subject again but it seems likely, so I thought I’d number it anyway.

14 responses to “The Facebook Privacy Row – 1

  1. Well, Mr. Zuckerberg didn’t start out with much integrity, it seems.
    According to SAI sources, the following exchange is between a 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg and a friend shortly after Mark launched The Facebook in his dorm room:

    Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

    Zuck: Just ask.

    Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

    [Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

    Zuck: People just submitted it.

    Zuck: I don’t know why.

    Zuck: They “trust me”

    Zuck: Dumb fucks.

    Read more:

    • How plausible and how depressing.

      “And this does appear to reflect Mark’s own views of privacy, which seem to be that people shouldn’t care about it as much as they do — an attitude that very much reflects the attitude of his generation.”

      Normative, like I said. They are trying to change us, not change the world.

      Thanks for that, Count Zero.


  2. Or is 2010 the year the Internet reached its troubled adolescence? The issue for Zuck may just be that he’s not making as much money as he should be. He looks at Google and he asks himself how can he get to be like them? All that great information. If only he could give a likkle ikkle bit of it out to willing third parties to do with that what they may.

    I look at Zuckerberg and I see a used car salesman.

    • He’s a billionaire, apparently. (Can’t remember where I read that). How much money should he be making? But you’ve a good point well made there, Colm.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Facebook Privacy Row – 1 « Thinking about it… --

  4. SonofRojBlake

    Possibly I’m just too old, but I don’t “get” it.

    What, realistically, is the “evil” thing Facebook are going to do with people’s information?

    Ultimately, it seems to me, the “evil” thing people are worried about is being bombarded with ever-more-accurately targeted advertising, because that’s the only thing Facebook and others actually WANT to do, because that’s what will make them some money. They don’t WANT to enable stalkers to track you, not because they’re concerned with your safety, but because stalkers won’t pay them for it.

    And frankly, if dumb people get embarrassed, or fired, because of stuff they’ve shared with the world on Facebook – good. Social Darwinism at its finest. I’ve yet to hear any tale of any problem with Facebook that was not 100% the user’s fault, and I really would like to hear one. In fact, I think I’ll go looking for one…

    • It’s about expectations, SoRB. Many years ago you may remember a row that flared up because someone did not realise that a website they were using could identify their own specific PC. Even bright and savvy internet users have odd gaps in their knowledge of how these things work.

      People really don’t understand how vulnerable they are on the internet, or how large the footprints are that they leave. People expect to be safe, and it’s not only the stupid who fall into that expectations gap. I told my solicitor I’d drop my bank details in to him, and he said “or email them to me”. And he’s not stupid: in he’s a ruthless property lawyer whose negotiations on my behalf have saved me well over the cost of his fees.

      There are three possible corporate responses to the problem that people will leave themselves open to exploitation and fraud:

      1) Mass education of the n billion internet users
      2) Responsible applications development and service delivery
      3) Exploitation

      It’s hard for one’s common sense to keep up with the reality of the tools they are using; especially when the tools are willfully or deliberately hard to configure.

      So I disagree. We are, any of us, only a rizzla paper away from destitution at the best of times, and we haven’t taken on board the implications that we are filmable on HD cameras the size of your thumb or viewable by satellite, or trackable by our Sat Nav or our mobile phone. We are only now learning to take Scobleizer’s advice and assume that every single thing we do online will eventually be outed, let alone realising that every single thing we do out of doors, or in a failing relationship (romantic, business, whatever) may be outed too.

      So, no, I disagree: I think this is a challenge for all of us.


  5. As usual xkcd sums the situation up:

  6. ‘Facebook reveals ‘simplified’ privacy changes’

  7. SonofRojBlake

    My employer (or rather, one or two employees of my employer) have recently come up with a wizard wheeze transparently designed to cut costs, which they are attempting to sell to the workforce as an environmental initiative. The idea? We’re going to stop wasting paper and printer ink and …. email your payslip to you.

    This was mentioned, by, I think one of the originators of the idea, in a meeting I was in. I responded immediately that I would agree to the idea, just as soon as she gave me her credit card number, expiry date, and the three digits off the back. I asked whether they intended to use PGP to encrypt the emails and whether each employee would have a separate, personal key, and the look of blank incomprehension she gave me was a picture.

    Is the lesson “Nothing you do on the internet is private” too complicated? Or too paranoid? (I agree it may be the latter…)

  8. The other thing about doing that “in the intersts of the environment” is that people do still need paper copies of their payslips for various reasons. So people will print them out at home. That’s just like reducing emissions withe electric cars. All it does is change where the damage is done.



  9. SonofRojBlake

    “just like reducing emissions withe electric cars”

    Actually, it’s almost the opposite. You do reduce emissions with electric cars, overall, because instead of lots and lots of inefficient cars, individually burning fossil fuels and individually emitting stuff, you have just a few massive power stations burning fossil fuels or possibly uranium, and emitting everything in one place where it can be concentrated, collected and controlled.

    Whereas if you give me a payslip, I’ll take care of it ‘cos I just get the one, whereas if I can print one out every time I need it, who knows how many copies I’ll make?

    I’m also tempted to consider the possibility that if I do get my payslips emailed to me, I’ll print ten copies of each on company paper with company ink on general principles.

  10. Ptah! You can prove anything with Facts…

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