Where Facebook and I Disagree by Mark Stone

August 2010. Good to see some progress today from FaceBook on the privacy front. I certainly have no idea how to get half a billion people to show up to a site of my creation, much less make them happy enough to come back regularly, so I try not to be too critical. But I have also tried to be fairly conservative with how I share information, and it really frustrates me to see my own approach to privacy undermined by changes that are almost invisible to me. So today's news looks like real progress.

Also, I found in Zukerberg's post the real disconnect between the way I (and many of my friends) think about privacy, and the way FaceBook thinks about it. Here's the relevant quote:

“In general, we recommended that you share basic info like status updates and posts with everyone, content like photos and videos of you with friends of your friends, and sensitive items like contact information with only your real friends. We asked each of you to look at your settings and choose what you wanted.”

So the default FaceBook assumption is that I want to share status updates publicly. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. While I don't have anything very scandalous in my status updates, they are aimed at my friends. The better you know me, the more sense those updates will make. Conversely, the less you know about me, the more trivial, irrelevant, or just plain odd those status updates will sound. The very fact that status updates have a stingy upper bound on number of characters allowed illustrates this. If you know me, and the context in which I am posting well enough, then I shouldn't need many characters to convey status. Context will do most of the work for me.

And that's really the genius of FaceBook. Face to face we sustain friendships seldom through deep, lengthy conversations, but through simple everyday exchanges that take on nuance and richer meaning through shared experience. FaceBook, more than any other site, has found a way to migrate the richness of simple shared experience online. Friendships that I cannot sustain through the heavy lifting of emails and blog posts I can sustain through FaceBook's light weight status updates.

So I'm a little baffled that FaceBook fails to recognize that this is the most sensitive information I have here, and therefore the information I am least likely to share publicly. I am way more promiscuous with my email address than I am with my FaceBook status updates, and I suspect that will always be true.

So while I welcome today's news, and forthcoming changes, this fundamental philosophical difference makes me wary. I will have to continue to be vigilant about privacy on a site that stubbornly refuses to recognize the way I and my friends typically view privacy.

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