Monday, May 31, 2010

Why I Didn't Quit Facebook

As always the opinions expressed in this posting are solely the author's and do not reflect any stances held by Intel.
A recent article by @mediaphyter asked the valid question about whether those who were threatening to quit Facebook over privacy issues actually ever quit. While I don't believe I actually ever threatened to quit Facebook, I certainly found the privacy issues compelling and considered it at least for a while. Moreover, I certainly posted enough tweets about the topic to be considered to be an agitator, because even if I tried to conscientious about being balanced, there was certainly more noise and more news on the outraged side than the opposite.

Thus, in all fairness, I must ask myself if I am being hypocritical by not quitting. At the same time, those of you following along at home can ask yourselves the same questions. Which of these answers ring true and which are mere rationalizing? Do you have reasons for quitting or not quitting that vary?

First, I have little to lose by quitting Facebook. Literally. I have perhaps a dozen or so friends on Facebook. Now, while there are some Facebook connections that I don't have contact with in any other way, I don't actually connect much with any of them. On would hope that most Facebook users would have more to lose if they lost the Facebook connection. (I would certainly feel that way if we were discussing Twitter, losing those connections would definitely be felt. The obvious presumption is that most people would feel the same way about their Facebook accounts. Asked that way, it is understandable why many people are stuck, which is what prompted one of the comments in the article above about "people talking about quitting not really wanting to do it".)

The next question the seems most relevant is whether I would act hypocritical after I quit. If one is quitting in protest, one should not continue to perform acts that line the pockets of the entity one is protesting against. That means that upon quitting Facebook, one shouldn't visit web pages hosted on Facebook. That would prove to be a much stiffer challenge. There are definitely sources like Cruel's Not Cool and F-Secure that I visit quite often by clicking links on Twitter. It would be difficult to exclude those sources from things I want to re-tweet simply because I was protesting Facebook's privacy policies.

However, the question that is most pressing is whether Facebook's privacy changes have swung back far enough to be acceptable. All of us have probably read fundamentally negative reviews like this one in eWeek. The key point in the article is that privacy now requires an opt-out decision where it used to be opt-in. That is that privacy used to be an easy default to get and now it takes more work.

Having actually tried the most recent changes to the privacy settings, I can report the pages to do so seemed very easy to navigate. Yes, if you want fine-grained control like I do, it isn't simply a one-click operation. However, one-click did get a surprising number to be close enough. Being relatively technically savvy, I will not make that a blanket pronouncement. The one-click solution is not one-size-fits-all, and the options underneath are still numerous and not necessarily obvious. Still, it did seem possible and not overly difficult to return Facebook to an essentially private service.

More important for me was the ability to opt-out completely and conveniently from the instant personalization. That is not only a privacy but a security issue. I consider identity theft and spear-phishing, using available information to formulate a more credible fake message, to be very significant problems that I don't want to be exposed to unnecessarily. Therefore, I keep most personal information off the web, with the exception of the resume information I publish on LinkedIn. Being able to restrict information from being given to applications that I am not using was a priority and one of my major concerns. Fixing that item was key for me in deciding not to abandon Facebook.

Does that make me happy about the changes in Facebook? No. The change in Terms-of-service which eroded my privacy was not welcome. Any changes that appear to erode my rights are not welcome.

Moreover, it certainly added to my levels of concerns and actually raised my consciousness about privacy and security threats I had not previously considered. Like most people, I would be quite satisfied to be blissfully ignorant as long as doing so isn't putting me at risk. Making those risks apparent may be good for me in the long run, but they are not pleasant to discover.

Therefore, I did not quit Facebook. I am not planning on doing so. However, I am still not happy about the reasons why it was worth considering quitting.

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