Fred Stutzman ended up writing an article almost exactly mirroring my thoughts on the latest Facebook features and the ensuing uproar around them. On a more micro scale, I think it is telling that after over 500 negative comments were posted on the Facebook Blog post about the new feature, they simply turned them off and deleted them all.
The fact of the matter is no privacy violation has occurred. The same information has been available. What has the social networking generation most alarmed by this event is the the "cold, hard reality" of what was previously semi-public to the Internet is now in their entire peer group's collective faces. I have read hundreds of posts and comments where people are mulling over this new perspective, and there is an almost universal blind-spot toward the realization that Facebook has had this information all along. It hasn't sprouted out of nowhere - no futuristic artificial intelligence has correlated their information. Moreover, Facebook has "private" information they still aren't publishing.
- Your private messages.
- Your e-mail address.
- Your password.
- Your cell phone number. (if you have Facebook mobile enabled)
- People who you have de-friended.
- Friend requests you have rejected.
- Whose profile you have been visiting the most.
- Where you have been logging in from. (remember they used to put that in your profile?)
There is no reason why you should trust Facebook with this information. At this point and time, information and privacy laws are a generally unregulated field. And yet, millions of twenty and thirty-somethings give their information up willingly... and then complain when their trusted peers have partial access to it. As opposed to a private corporation trying to monetize you.
It gets much worse. Now I'm going to say how I see it playing out.
Facebook, MySpace, Googling your upcoming date, phonebooks, publically accessible tax records, semi-private cell phone records, the many information exposures of recent months from various financial institutions, and other events I'm forgetting at the moment are the beginning of future. I have written about this before, but it seems the Transparent Society believers are being proven right.
If you think forcing Facebook to rollback the changes / lobbying the government for stronger privacy laws / turning into a luddite will solve the "problem", then I humbly propose you're misunderstanding the scope. A fundamental societal and cultural change has started. Our parents already wonder how we can be so public, and until this point and time it has been so easy to dismiss their questions. But they simultaneously have and miss the point - our transparency is both in our control and out of our control. Our most highly guarded information is already outside of our grasp.
If accepting this seems fatalistic to you, I recommend joining hands with the baby boomers. They're aging and will soon be placing a huge strain upon the medical system. Their records, and the total lack of privacy, seems destined to be become a major political issue.
In a small village, everyone knows each others' business. In a city, your privacy is from being lost in the noise. The Internet will make the world a small village.