How to commit Facebook suicide
I used to be quite a fan of Facebook, which has after all played an important role in the evolution of online social networks.
Regular readers will know I’ve been a huge fan of social networks ever since I dived headfirst into the FidoNet Bulletin Board communities 20-odd years ago. Even so, over the last year my relationship with Facebook has been going through something of a rough patch.
First, as I’ve mentioned in these pages before, came the privacy and security problems involving certain rogue Facebook applications. Despite these scams receiving plenty of media coverage, it appears to have done absolutely nothing to assuage the appetite of some Facebook users for pointless and hugely annoying games and surveys – hugely annoying, that is, to their network of friends who don’t share this passion for uncovering connections between taste in movies or comparing biorhythms.
Facebook doesn’t understand that even the biggest and most popular of networks can find itself quickly falling from grace if it annoys its members one too many times
Then, as Twitter started to blossom, so the scourge of social network cross-posting slapped me squarely in the face. Whenever I logged on to Facebook, I was seeing the same messages that I’d just read on Twitter, posted simultaneously to Facebook by some awfully clever service or other. It soon became quite obvious that I needed to choose between these two social networks. Twitter won, and as a consequence I rarely connect to Facebook any more, perhaps checking for updates only once a week.
I was a little surprised, then, to be presented with a new privacy transition screen when I logged in to Facebook in early December. Not only had this initiative changed all my privacy defaults – to pretty well no privacy at all – but it had done so without so much as a by-your-leave.
I had to go through everything and opt to stay with my old settings – you know, those “please don’t share my profile data with anyone who wants it, or show my photos to the world”, that kind of thing. Since “let everyone see your stuff” has now become the default position, the chances are really very high indeed that huge numbers of people will simply click through and accept them without thinking. Nice way to stamp all over your users’ privacy, Facebook.
What would have been wrong with leaving as default those privacy options people had already chosen, and requiring them to actively opt in to this new “open information” style of doing things only if they wanted to? Well, a sizeable majority of people wouldn’t have so opted, and so the marketing men, data aggregators, application developers, researchers and anyone else who fancied a look at their data wouldn’t have been so easily able to crawl the Facebook social web.
This social network is becoming a very shrewd business operator, which understands the value that can be realised by opening up member information in this way, not least the page views that result when it turns up in search results and punters start to click links and end up at Facebook.
What a shame Facebook doesn’t understand that even the biggest and most popular of networks can find itself quickly falling from grace if it annoys its members one too many times. It’s already had to make an embarrassing climb-down over one of the changes; originally, your list of friends could be viewed by anyone, rather than just friends or friends-of-friends as per the old system. Worryingly, there was no option to change this new default setting, until users kicked up such a fuss that it was brought back: go to your profile page and click on the little blue pencil alongside the friends entry, where you’ll find a checkbox for “show my friends on my profile”. This should be deselected for maximum privacy.
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