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Facebook may be “Big Brother”, but I’m not too scared

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk in the news and on social networks about Facebook’s “evil” privacy policy.  Before you start worrying that Facebook is coming to take you down for your personal info – relax.  Take a deep breath.  Telling Facebook some things about yourself isn’t so bad.

Once a novelty known as the place where “the kids” could “poke” ’til your hearts’ content, almost overnight, Facebook has now become the latest iteration of Big Brother.  And it’s not a difficult comparison to make.  Many would argue that Facebook is a bigger danger to us than Google as the type of information that Facebook retains is so much more intensely personal, in many cases.  So it’s no wonder that you’ve been seeing stories popping up everywhere from Mashable to the Globe and Mail about Facebook Privacy, but please try to remember – it’s only the news.  They’ll tell any story that they think people will read.

In response to this backlash, Facebook also has been working feverishly to make their privacy policy more transparent than ever.  The document that used to be longer than the US Constitution (seriously) has now been summarized to make it more palatable to users.  In addition, they’ve recently gone to great lengths to simplify the process by which you can review and learn about your privacy – “Privacy Settings” is now a prominent menu item in the “Account” dropdown at the top right of your page.  Clearly, they’re working to help users understand the policy, and what they’re sharing – but that’s not enough for some.

A part of this backlash, Quit Facebook Day (officially May 31, 2010) was created, came and passed, confirming my suspicion that the issue isn’t as big as some would have you believe.  As of the time I wrote this, the official movement at had amassed 36,559 committed quitters for their May 31 “event”.  While that seems like a big number, compared to Facebook’s 450,000,000+ users, it amounts to less than 0.009% of the overall population of Facebook Nation.

Perhaps the real reason this Facebook exodus failed was many realized that the data they were sharing was no more than they’ve given up to an email service, messenger service or an online photo sharing tool.  Because Facebook pulls this all together, it makes some people nervous.  But do you really believe someone at the company is combing through 450,000,000 user’s photos and status updates looking to use that information for villainous purposes?  Hardly.  If anything, programming behind the scenes will be using it to suggest to you content and conversations you’re more likely to enjoy.

Throw in the fact that I’m sure you use Facebook to find out what’s going on this weekend, see the first pics of your new nephew, keep tabs on friends in other cities, kill time at work – or even as a part of your job – and it’s pretty clear that the platform gives us a lot and asks very little in return.  So don’t give up on Facebook so fast – when he takes good care of you, it’s not so bad having a Big Brother.

  • J.R. LeMar

    I agree, people make way too much of this privacy stuff. The only thing I don't like about Facebook's privacy settings is that they don't allow you to turn over recent activity like the used to. I don't know like all those little details showing up on my page: J.R. Likes Janet's photo, J.R. commented on Michael's status, etc. So everytime I do something on someone's page, I immediately go back to my own page, to delete the little notice.

  • Andrew Lane

    I agree with you J.R. that this is an inconvenience and Facebook takes an
    all-or-none approach to displaying your activity. They seem to want users
    to be highly social or not at all as more advanced customization used to
    exist in this area before more recent privacy updates.

  • Guest

    “people make way too much of this privacy stuff” – Funniest comment ever. nnYou should hope you’re never a victim of identity theft or a smear campaign to a future employer. Online privacy is very important, just as it is in the physical world. nnProtecting the individual’s privacy on the Internet is crucial to the future of Internet-based business and the move toward a true Internet economy. Facebook is a buisness, and guess what, privacy only matters if it hurts their bottom line. Andrew Lane noted the ‘facebook economy’ in another post. We have recently seen how facebook is good at organizing people for demonstrations in Yeman and Egypt. What happens if the government were to step in and ask Facebook for all the people in opposition of governement ? As a profitable business ,would would they take on the RCMP or the FBI? nnI really think you under-value how much is at stake. To use Canada as an example, the Conservatives government have already proposed a u201clawful accessu201d bill that would greatly expand the powers of police to obtain personal information about Canadians from their Internet service providers without any court oversight. nnIf such a bill were to become law, cops would no longer need a warrant to trace, say, an Internet comment to a citizenu2019s name, IP address, email address, home address, and cell phone number. In fact, as long as the police had any one of the above, they could request the rest of the info from ISPs without a judge ever considering the need for such disclosure. The ISP’s will be mandated to store that personal information indefinately. What would happen if that information became public ? Would it effect your job, your personal life, your life?nnThe biggest risk (abliet most extreme) is that the elimination of privacy allows the government to purposefully intimidate persons who may disagree with their policies.Yes, there might be the need to take steps towards fending off the pedo’s of the world, thus some aspects might need to be regulated . However, given the failings of state in East Germany, Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. shouldn’t we side advocate more privacy, and take measures to educate people how to protect themselves rather than throw out our civil liberties that help institute a strong democracy? n nI recommend you key search Ai Weiwei for more infonnnn

  • Andrew Lane

    Thanks for the comment. Your points about privacy are well-taken, but it’s worth noting that since the date this was written, Facebook has gone even further to ensure user privacy. What I find most interesting about the Facebook privacy debate is why anyone who was truly concerned with the privacy of their information would sign up for a website, owned (as you noted) by a for-profit company, and proceed to share copious amounts of personal data? I would be inclined to think that if complete privacy is something a person is looking for, Facebook should not be their destination – it’s just not what the site was designed to do! Social and privacy will have this debate forever but for those who don’t want their information spread/owned/accessed to/by others, they should not be contributing it willingly to businesses whose revenue model is based on sharing personal information.

  • J.R. LeMar

    >>”people make way too much of this privacy stuff” – Funniest comment ever.<>You should hope you’re never a victim of identity theft or a smear ncampaign to a future employer. Online privacy is very important, just asn it is in the physical world.<<nnI know, and that's why, as someone whose always used his real name online, I'm very careful about the actual info I share, and what I post online. My policy is "don't write any comments or post any pictures that you would be ashamed to have revealed on a billboard in the middle of Times Square." If more folks followed that simple philosophy, they wouldn't always be freaking about whether or not someone can read their Facebook profile, which is what this blog is about.