Bullies on the Interactive Playground

http://www.flickr.com/photos/43993720@N02/4336771398/
By Oversocialized on Flickr

Facebook and I had a deal.  I agreed to give them a basic amount of my information, use their site regularly to increase site traffic (and therefore their potential for ad revenue), and promote the site to my friends.  In exchange, Facebook agreed to let me use their servers to post my vacation photos, interact with friends and control my privacy settings.

Without my consent, Facebook broke the deal.

When it comes to reactions about Facebook’s lax privacy concerns, there appear to be two camps.  On one side, people say that Facebook owes its users the degree of privacy they were promised when they signed up.  The other side says that Facebook is a free site and therefore isn’t accountable to its users.  I believe the former, Steve Tuttle of Newsweek, among others, believes the latter.

In a May 27th post titled “Who Said Facebook Owes You Privacy?” Tuttle argues that Facebook is free and no one is forcing people to use it. And while he acknowledges that Facebook has changed privacy rules without consent, he basically says tough-luck to you:

[I]f Facebook guarantees one level of privacy and doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain, the company should be held accountable. By which I mean it could potentially pay a price if enough people get outraged and someone invents a new, improved Facebook that does a better job guaranteeing privacy. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Mr. Tuttle and I agree that Facebook is acting like a bully.  But my only options are to continue to be bullied or leave?  Those aren’t options.  No matter what, I get screwed.

Let’s face it: I’m probably not going to quit Facebook anytime soon.  I’ve started to delete as much personal information as I can, but I still use the site regularly.  Facebook has become essential to my social life – at least in so far as a technology can be essential.  No, I won’t die without Facebook, but I also won’t get to see new baby pictures or get invited to many events.  Not to mention keep my job since a big part of it is working with social media.

I know that this doesn’t make a lot of sense to people of older generations (I listened to a teenager yesterday exclaim in horror that my aunt’s cell phone didn’t have a colour screen), and I understand where Mr. Tuttle is coming from, but that doesn’t change the reality:  Social media is mainstream and it’s sticking around.

Mr. Tuttle makes good points about privacy though: The internet is not private – no matter what a corporation tells you – people are stupid, and things will be found.  But while the obvious solution is “don’t ever do anything stupid” (at least not in front of anyone with a camera), it doesn’t make sense in the real world.

People are dumb and the onus cannot be exclusively on internet users to protect themselves while we let corporations off the hook.

It’s clear that Facebook is behaving badly.  They monopolize social media which means they will continue to bully people into information-sharing submission.  The company has an unscrupulous CEO at the helm and has managed to insert itself into the daily lives of people of all ages.

As much as any company should be able to control their future, it can’t be at the expense of the customers it has relied on to make it profitable to begin with.  And even on the Internet, there ought to be an expectation that companies act as responsible corporate citizens.

So what does Facebook owe me? At the very least, they owe me the privacy levels I agreed to.  But a little respect would go a long way.

Some other Facebook Rants and Observations:

Who Needs Friends Like Facebook?

Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline

A Handy Facebook-to-English Translator

An Open Letter from Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook moves to fix privacy loophole after WSJ review

Facebook: personalization vs. privacy

Facebook’s Zuckerberg Answers Critics With New Privacy Controls

The Big Game, Zuckerberg and Overplaying your Hand

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