Facebook has come under intense pressure recentely over it’s privacy settings, with people somehow being able to bemoan the confusing complexity on one hand but also being able to claim that there aren’t enough settings to let them personalise their settings on the other. Not just because I find most people to be blithering idiots, I find these people particularly insufferable because they totally miss the point of a social network service to begin with, it’s essentially the equivalent of shagging around and then being angry when your balls start to itch.
Mark Zuckerberg, the man behind Facebook, began it as a college project with, I gather, no intention (and thus no foresight) to turn it into a company or the massive Web 2.0 service it is today. The development of Web 2.0 is synonymous with integration, the sharing of data and information between services on the same universal platform: the web, all leading to a cohesive user experience. How many different forms do you have to fill out in order to get accounts at all your favourite websites, I did a count and found that over my e-mail, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Digg and all other websites I have an account with I have wasted so much time entering the same information over and over again; what Facebook aims to do is share all the information automatically. You may’ve seen Facebook modules on some websites that already show your profile and wall, inviting you to post, for example, what you’re watching on a video-sharing website to your profile.
You would almost certainly have seen the Facebook ‘Like’ button (above, although I know it says ‘Arr!’ because my Facebook language is set to pirate, but you know what I’m getting at). These take your Facebook login details, which are often stored in cookies on your machine, which is why (if you so choose) you can go to Facebook and be automatically logged in, and allow you to source data and information from other sources without the long, tedious process of getting addresses and re-posting. This is, basically, what Digg has been doing for years, but in a far more social way as Facebook is more of a social network with this data-mining functionality where Digg focused mostly on the latter.
Where this is going, I feel, is the use of Facebook as an ‘Internet Identity’ and I, quite frankly, welcome it. A good way to look at it is the idea of credit cards, rather than going to each shop and having to fill out your bank details again and again every time you want to buy something is marginally more secure but a terribly long process. Credit cards store that information and allow you to reproduce it automatically so that a shop can charge you for your purchase, consider how much trust you put in your bank to keep your money, financial and personal information secure – how is entrusting Facebook any different? It also means that sharing web content is simplified, meaning you can show practically anything on the web to your friends on Facebook with one click. These are the first of many innovations that the open sharing of information can bring, but people who are worried about their privacy on Facebook undermine this new functionality. There is, of course, the risk of data being stolen, which can lead to identity theft, but if you were stupid enough to put so much sensitive information on a website you quite frankly deserve it. People will also bemoan that their data can be sold on and lead to spam and, again, that’s true, but we have spam filters and all manner of opt-out settings that can reduce spam to, at most, a minor inconvenience – but I feel that should be considered a side-effect necessary for the innovation allowing this development can have (which I’ll go into later) just as targeted ads from Google’s data mining of, say, your e-mail keeps Google services free.
But what of anonymity? Anonymity is one of the original cornerstones of the internet, the recent ‘Draw Muhammad Day’, coincidentely also on Facebook, was a response to the creators of South Park censoring their depiction of the Muslim prophet Muhammad for fear of death threats as well as the threats and even murder of cartoonists who have criticised Islam. The idea was that while it is easy for one religious group to threaten the individual, they couldn’t quash free speech on the scale of thousands of anonymous internet users; despite my opinions on religion, which I sometimes write about, I’m not here to discuss that. What stands out from that is that anonymity was available even for a group on Facebook, even with the wealth of information there, people are still able to remain anonymous, and that’s true for the Internet as a whole, if you wish to remain anonymous you can but, for the most part, why would you want to? It is not very often that one actually needs to be anonymous on the Internet, which is why I fail to see why people make such a big fuss over Facebook privacy; you can have your cake and eat it too.
But we’re missing one of the biggest reasons behind the criticism of Facebook privacy: people don’t like their information to be available to just anyone. But then if they don’t why are they using a service that explicitly promotes the sharing of information and, above all, social networking. I understand that it’s a good way to communicate with friends and contacts and not intended as open ground for strangers to stalk you, so then don’t put any information on your Facebook that you don’t want people to see! My Facebook account is open to absolutely anyone who wants a peek (except my mother) because I have nothing on there that I wouldn’t want people to know, I don’t have my home address or phone number, I have absolutely no information that I wouldn’t tell a stranger if they asked nicely. At the top of this page you’ll see a little Facebook icon, click on it and see my full profile, there is nothing on there I don’t want people to see because I wouldn’t put that on the internet. That’s the golden rule: If you don’t want something to be publically known, don’t put it on the Internet. I’m half-tempted to develop an app for Facebook called ‘The Ultimate Facebook Privacy App’ which simply deletes your facebook account and puts up a message saying “If you don’t like it, then fuck off” on the screen. Not to mention the fact that people seem to be so bafflingly egotistical as to actually think anyone gives a crap, your profile is boring, your pictures are boring – what does it matter if people can see your profile? You’re boring!
Facebook will continue to be criticised by jumpy idiots who don’t understand the point of social networks. The growth of Web 2.0 will see increasingly more services under fire for privacy concerns lead by morons, such as the ‘Quit Facebook Day’ guys, who don’t understand how this stuff works nor can apply the basic common sense needed to protect your privacy – the golden rule I mentioned earlier. Frankly, these pseudo-Luddites (I should mention that ‘Quit Facebook Day’ was an absolute failure) can struggle against it but the sheer number of applications this new paradigm of information sharing has is staggering and brilliant; it has an unlimited potential for innovation, but only on an open platform. If they’re so opposed to the open sharing of information they should, by all means, quit Facebook and let those of us with enough brain cells to use it securely enjoy the functionality this provides, rather than stubbornly staying on Facebook and brow-beating Zuckerberg for being a visionary.