We've long been aware of facebook overshares via lamebook, but a new website, openbook, makes clear just how vulnerable your information is, by allowing you to search facebook statuses for questionable phrases like "cheated on test" and "I hate my boss." You may have noticed the way facebook is trying to take your privacy control away from you when it required you to "connect" with your work info and interests in order to keep them listed on your profile. "Connections," unlike the information listed in your extended profile, are public information.
You can see graphically just how much facebook has eroded your privacy over the years through this neat-o blooming flower of overexposure. Some have had enough, and there's a growing wave of discontent, with many users deleting their profiles, or threatening to. Internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis is on a mission against facebook, after deciding in late 2009 that the company wasn't trustworthy due to its new privacy defaults. But he's far from the only one. Gizmodo has offered up ten reasons why you should quit facebook, including its leaders' demonstrated questionable ethics and "war on privacy," but also arguing that even if facebook wanted to protect your privacy, recent technical gaffes show they just aren't competent enough to.
But the question is, why would facebook act like this? Don't they have a business motivation to keep us, its customers, happy by protecting our privacy? In a word, no. The thing is, we, the users, are not facebook's customers. Its customers are the advertising companies they sell our data and page space to. That's what's wrong with facebook, and that's why its mistreatment of users is going to get worse before it gets better. The website they need to sell is one that is most profitable and appealing to advertisers, not to users. Facebook doesn't make money by having lots of users. Facebook makes money by having lots of users a) looking at lots of ads and b) putting up lots of information it can sell to advertisers. You are not the customer; you're the product. Your data and your attention are the goods facebook trades in with its real customers, ad-buying companies. As for users, they need to keep us just happy enough that we don't revolt, and take our money-making eyes elsewhere. Which is why facebook was so smart (read: evil) to wait until it had become an essential and irreplaceable form of communication before hacking away at the user experience.
What this means is that to make real inroads in fighting back against facebook's careless mistreatment of its users, we need to "unionize"--to threaten to leave in large enough numbers that they'll listen to our concerns. Because otherwise, facebook will keep doing whatever it can to keep serving advertisers juicy tidbits of our private information--your life on a silver platter. This IM exchange from a just-starting-out Mark Zuckerberg certianly doesn't help inspire confidence:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at HarvardFor those who are concerned, a new startup is out to create a "facebook killer" social networking site, and has raised about $200,000 more than their initial $10,000 funding goal. In the meantime, everyone should visit this site and perform a privacy checkup of their facebook settings in an easy, transparent way--something facebook itself doesn't allow. And, if you decide to leave, follow these steps to permanently delete your account, not just deactivate, which keeps all the data out in the ether. Just know that there's no way of checking if facebook has really deleted your information, leading some tech bloggers to dub facebook a modern-day Hotel California.
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.