Does Facebook Privacy Even Matter?

With the ongoing debate about Facebook privacy both within the company and in the media, perhaps it’s important that we ask a fundamental question: does Facebook privacy even matter? During a dinner the other night, someone asked me this exact question. The point of the person was that if we’re honest, there really isn’t that much stuff you share on Facebook that puts you at risk.

Do you really like morning sex? So does 125,000 other people. Do those individuals care if their boss knows about their interest in morning sex? Who knows! Perhaps 30 years ago your boss would have found a public statement about the matter to be revolting, but at this point hasn’t the shock value of such things become diminished?

While the media realizes that people are concerned about their safety (it’s toward the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), getting a click on an article has nothing to do with the fact that most users still don’t change their privacy settings (although at least tens of thousands have opted out of Facebook’s new “Instant Personalization”). So let’s examine the issue further.

Facebook & Mark Zuckerberg’s Position

Mark Zuckerberg believes in a concept called “radical transparency”. It’s a concept that was examined in depth in David Kirkpatrick’s new book, “The Facebook Effect“. As Kirkpatrick describes, radical transparency is essentially “a radical social premise—that an inevitable enveloping transparency will overtake modern life.” In other words the world is becoming more transparent and Facebook will lean toward having their users being more transparent as this shift takes place.

The greater issue facing Facebook right now is whether or not this increased transparency can be forced upon people. “Instant Personalization” and the new “Connections” feature, which associate previously private interests and put them in a public forum, have forced users to be more transparent. Not surprisingly, users and especially the media, have lashed out against the company. But what do users really want when all is said and done with the latest Facebook privacy fiasco?

What Users Want

If you were to ask me what users fundamentally want when it comes to privacy, I’d tell you they want the following:

  • To not have drunken (or generally damaging) photos or videos of themselves show up to friends and especially co-workers,
  • The ability to control whether or not their content shows up in search engines (and other directories),
  • The ability to protect personally identifiable information (email address, phone number, etc) to avoid identity theft, and
  • The ability to control who their information is shared with

Controlling Who Shares What

Facebook provides controls for most of these features except for the last component to a certain extent. In the new “Instant Personalization” program, Facebook has chosen which partners can access certain information about you, the moment you visit that partner’s website. In other words, Facebook has made a decision on behalf of users, who they can trust. They’ve stripped the users of a control they previously had.

Despite most of these partners being trustworthy companies, users (and privacy advocates) have fought back, saying that Facebook users should be the one to make the decision, not Facebook.

While users can “opt out” of the program, the users are essentially forced into the program. Regardless of what’s right when it comes to this individual program (which many users are rapidly opting out from), users also want to control what their friends can share. While there is a tool for controlling what personal information your friends can share about you (found here), there’s no way to prevent your friend from uploading a damaging photo of you.

Publish date: May 19, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT