To Facebook, or not to Facebook, that is the question.

Whether tis better to suffer the slings and arrows of non-privacy… or … okay that’s about all that I remember.

My oh my there is a storm raging on blogs and on tech podcasts everywhere.  People are leaving Facebook because of the latest privacy developments by Facebook.  I’m not.  That doesn’t mean that I think the people leaving Facebook are wrong.  They have their reasons, and I have mine.  I feel compelled to share mine not to prove them wrong, but because I do feel that friends and family look to me as a source of technical and computer advice, and I would like to express my position.

The problems with privacy on Facebook are many, and complicated.  Facebook is essentially saying that a portion of your online profile from now on is and always will be public, and this includes your profile information like your profile picture and gender, your friend list, and anything you ‘like’.  This means anything and anyone can get at them, and they are passing this information to a few websites now, including Yalp, Pandora, and Docs.com (Microsoft).   Those sites will now instantly recognize you, and even recommend things your friends have viewed/seen/liked.

Plus, there are past security issues with the API allowing malicious websites and even Facebook applications to gather more information than you really want, and probably even doing things with your Facebook that you don’t know/expect.  A recent issue allowed someone to view all your past chats, merely by typing in your name in the ‘preview my profile as’ box under Privacy Settings.  That has been fixed.

Facebook IS getting complicated.  It IS getting to the point where I don’t think Joe Bag’o’donuts on the street may be able to log in and correctly set their privacy settings.  The defaults are crazy open.  Most people don’t know how to lock down their privacy settings (click here to find out how), and Facebook is counting on and basing it’s business model on that ignorance.

Does that affect my use?  Should it affect my use?

Well, if I am friends with Joe Bag’o’donuts, and he goes to a website that pulls my name from his list, then that website now has my  name, can (perhaps) query Facebook for my information and get all the information that Facebook has deemed is public on me.  My picture, gender, user ID’s, friend list, and everything I like.

Let’s get something straight here. Facebook is on the Internet.  It has always been on the internet.  Anything you put on the Internet is or can be public, and I’ve always had the opinion that anything you put on the Internet (including Facebook) should be suitable for sharing with anyone that knows your name.  And anything THAT public should be something you wouldn’t mind your mother, your prospective employer, or your children to view.  My boss is a friend of mine on Facebook.  Nuff said.

Because of this when Blockbuster said it’d post all the movies I rent I said ‘No thanks.’  Not because I didn’t want my Facebook friends to know that I rent lurid movies, just because that was too much.  In the applications/games I use on Facebook I turn off the automatic posting to my newsfeed.  I constantly view my profile, and look to see if there is information on there I don’t want to share, and if there is something there I try to find out how to block it.

Some people say the solution is to put fake data on Facebook.  That really isn’t necessary… in this day and age of free web services you can find free phone numbers (Google Voice), and free email addresses aplenty.

I have at least 5 e-mail addresses, and 3 telephone numbers (not counting the other family members).  I’m not really worried about them ‘leaking out’.  Although I did take precautions, by creating a Google Voice number, and associating that with my Facebook profile.  If I ever answer my phone and it tells me who is calling, it came through Google Voice and probably through Facebook.  It’s about the only place I put it. 

I also didn’t put my street address in Facebook (I think it was there for a while, though).

How public does it get?

When you Google my name, one of the first items that comes up is an trivia question about the name on the grave in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.  And it’s wrong.  The name is really Arch Stanton.

4th item is my Linked-In profile.

5th item is my Twitter profile.

6th item is a Facebook profile that’s not mine.

7th item is my Friendfeed profile.

My URL for Facebook is http://www.facebook.com/art.stanton.  And that doesn’t come up in Google search for ‘Art Stanton’.

Okay, this is anecdotal.  I know how to set my privacy settings.  But even when I search my friend’s names that may not know how to set privacy the first Facebooks I see are not theirs.  And computers can search through all of them, gather all the information and use it to do … what?

Say I was considering getting a job at Company X.  Where am I going to go to find out if I know anyone, or am connected to anyone at Company X?  I go to Linked-In, where I actually can search my friends friends to find out who I know that works there.  This is really hard to do on Facebook.

But still… people are MUCH more ‘open’ on Twitter than they are in Facebook, in my experience.  People curse openly and oftenly, complain about many things, and post pictures that would never be shared on Facebook… and my Twitter account is one of the first options when my name is searched.  And you don’t hear a peep about how Twitter should lock down their privacy.  Twitter has always been public, though.

Broken Promises

Okay, but it’s the principal of the matter here, right?  Facebook promised they would keep it all private.  And now they’re making it public.  They’re reneging on a promise, and this now puts Facebook into the land of the evil corporation, right?  We told Facebook things we wouldn’t have told them if we knew… if we only knew!

Well, sure, but what else has changed.  Facebook has become a behemoth, basically.

Dec. 2004 they serviced 1 million active users.   February 2010, 400 million active users.  Source.

400 million active users.  Let’s go back to that friend’s list again… right now I have 474 friends.  If I’m exposing any of my friend’s information, it’s one of 474 people.  Automation, computer technology allows them to be able to handle that many names, parse them out, collect them and retrieve it all in a manner of minutes.  And using this information they can use it to … send me targeted ads (but I might want those, really)?  Steal my identity?  Give them enough information to social engineer my bank passwords?  This is what I still don’t know.  What is the threat of this public information?  Spam?  I’ve not seen spam in ages, thanks to Gmail.

Status Quo

Long story short, I’m staying on Facebook.  I do talk with people all the time who stay away from Facebook, don’t like Facebook, and know a few leaving Facebook.  No worries, there are plenty of ways of reaching me:

http://www.twitter.com/artstanton

http://flickr.com/artstant

http://www.linkedin.com/in/artstanton

http://www.friendfeed.com/artstanton

http://notnats.com

http://kingotter67.spaces.live.com

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