Facebook – About Face

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

I know I said I was going to lay off FaceBook, but there’s just been so much going on…

FaceBook introduced a revamped interface a couple of days ago which seems cleaner and faster, but I for one miss some of the aspects of the old – in particular the avatars of my friends in the left side column. Maybe there’s a way to get them back, but I haven’t found it yet in my relatively minimal exploration.

What I did find in that exploration was distinctly unpleasant. When this most recent kerfuffle about privacy issues first began, I went into my profile and deleted a bunch of information – including all of my employment and most of my educational background – leaving in only what I thought was crucial for people to identify me as me.

So imagine my surprise when all of that deleted data turned up again as search criteria for looking for friends. All of it. So that data I deleted is still there for FaceBook’s use, and presumably for sharing through their new connections systems – it just isn’t visible in my profile.

Another big change recently was to the “likes” in the profile – the lists of books, films, and music we created as part of our profiles. Suddenly, those went from being text to links – linked to other FaceBook pages – and events started popping up on my home stream relating to those likes – info on upcoming concerts by musicians I’d mentioned, things like that.

I hadn’t put that information in to get spammed with ads in my stream. If I want info on upcoming Jonatha Brooke concerts – which I do – I can opt in to her email list, or befriend her on FaceBook (both of which I’d done). So I went into my profile and deleted all of my books, music and films.

I was a bit sad to see those lists go – they did a good job of fleshing out my profile, which is why I’d entered that info. I always knew it would be used for market research – and I was resigned to that as part of the price for a free FaceBook. But I never expected to get spammed with ads amidst the notes from my friends detailing the trials, tribulations and triumphs of their daily lives.

I’m not going to delete my FaceBook account. FaceBook is “too big to fail” – in the sense that it has become the de facto site for people like me to have a digital presence. (And my younger siblings and nephews are clearly going to stick with it – and I need to keep an eye on them.) And I will occasionally post info to it. But I am going to use it a lot less, and access it in different ways – through aggregator sites with more rigourous privacy policies – and I am not going to be updating my profile.

And I’m not going to be providing FaceBook with any more free content and unpaid market research that they will sell to whoever they want, keep as long as they want and use any way they want.

FaceBook Alternatives

In my previous post on FaceBook, I outlined a possible FaceBook alternative, based on open source ideas, a non-profit Wikipedia-like approach, and Creative Commons licensing ideas. Not surprisingly, others have been thinking along similar, and even more radical lines.

Two alternatives to FaceBook are in development – Diaspora, the one that’s been getting all the press recently, and OneSocialWeb, which has been around longer and is further ahead in development, but didn’t get written up by The New York Times and BBC.

What makes these projects more radical than what I outlined is also what makes them problematic: they are both conceived of as distributed software applications. People will have to run the applications on their own servers. The best analogy I can think of on the fly is with file-sharing. FaceBook is like going to a website (RapidShare, iTunes) to download music. It’s all there on the servers. These alternatives are like BitTorrent systems – the material is distributed among the individual users.

It’s obviously a better solution for all sorts of privacy and control reasons, and more robust in a technical sense (assuming it’s properly implemented). However, while such an approach is going to find favor with geeks, average users are not going to want to mess with setting it up, even if they have access to, or are willing to pay for, their own servers.

My 13-old nephew is not going to do this, nor is my dad. In fact, most of the people I interact with on FaceBook are not going to be willing to deal with this approach, no matter how put off they may be by FaceBook’s recent activities.

I like these proposals for the reasons I’ve already outlined, but I see a real danger here. If all the geeks who are concerned about privacy defect to one or another (both? a merger?) of these systems, FaceBook won’t even blink, and will continue as before, and our friends and family will have to suck it up.

But if there were an alternative that was as easy to use as FaceBook, we’d have a much better chance of encouraging sufficient defections to give the new system/network/site some legs, some momentum…

Ledes and links below…

A Call For an Open, Distributed Alternative To Facebook: “Ryan Singel, writing for Wired, claims that Facebook has gone rogue: ‘Facebook used to be a place to share photos and thoughts with friends and family and maybe play a few stupid games that let you pretend you were a mafia don or a homesteader. It became a very useful way to connect with your friends, long-lost friends and family members. … And Facebook realized it owned the network….”

The anti-Facebook: “Can the supremacy of Facebook, as the world’s biggest social network rapidly heading towards 500 million users, ever be truly challenged at this stage?”

About New York: Creating a Network Like Facebook, Only Private: “Four N.Y.U. students have decided people should be able to communicate online without surrendering their privacy to a big business.”

Diaspora, The Open Facebook Alternative, Soars Past $50,000 In Micro-Funding [Update: Now Past $100,000]: “Whenever a service rises to popularity, an ‘open’ alternative is usually close behind. The problem is that most of these alternatives never go anywhere, let along get close to the service they’re trying to supplant. But the rate at which Diaspora*, the open project hoping to be the new Facebook, is gaining funding is getting too big to ignore.”

NYU Students Raise More than $100,000 to Build Facebook Alternative: “Four New York University students have a vision to build Diaspora, ‘an open source personal web service that will put individuals in control of their data,’ or essentially the anti-Facebook.”

Open Facebook Alternatives Gain Momentum, $115K: “Wired.com called for an open source alternative to Facebook, and now one contender has raised $115,000 in donations in just days, and another with running code is seeking to capitalize on the anti-Facebook moment.”

OneSocialWeb: We’re Ahead Of Diaspora In The Creation Of An ‘Open Facebook’: “For all the attention the Diaspora project has been getting, largely thanks to the New York Times, another alternative called OneSocialWeb has been desperately trying to raise even just a couple of eyebrows.”

Has Facebook’s Evil Genius Gone Too Far?: “‘Do no evil.’ That was the now famous philosophy that Google portrayed to the world, claiming that a business doesn’t need to be evil to be effective and make money. It sounds great, really. But we are left wondering what Facebook’s motto would look like: ‘What they don’t know won’t hurt them’?”

Report: Go ahead, quit Facebook, but they’ll retain and data mine your info: “John Moe and the new public radio show Future Tense did a segment this week about people quitting Facebook over privacy concerns. They report that quitting doesn’t really resolve those concerns. First, deleting is different from deactivating, and the deletion process isn’t easy for everyone to figure out. Still, even if you do manage to truly delete your account once and for all, John reports: ‘You’ll never see that data again. But Facebook will. They still have that information and will continue to use it for data mining.’ Will the data at least be anonymized, the reporter asked? The Facebook rep wouldn’t say. Caveat Facebooker.”

Europe chastises Facebook over default privacy settings: “Facebook has made ‘unacceptable’ changes to its privacy settings that are detrimental to users, a coalition of European data protection officials warned.”

NYT Q&A with Facebook exec: lametastically lame: “This NYT Q&A with Facebook exec Elliot Schrage, VP for public policy, has about as much teeth as a chicken. Maggie blogged the call for reader questions last week, but what was published today feels like a big wank for Facebook, and no real answers for anyone. Pathetic. Why was there no attempt by the NYT to poke at what’s bogus or unfair in this guy’s wiggle-words? Facebook’s bottom line seems to be: ‘If you’re using our service to share intimate details of your life with friends and family, you’ll take whatever we give you, and we’ll change that whenever we want without warning. Hey, you asked for it, privacy and user rights be damned.’ ”

Facebook Hires Former US FTC Chairman Tim Muris: “Facebook has hired former US Federal Trade Commission chairman Timothy J. Muris in the face of increased government scrutiny of its privacy policies. The former senior Bush administration regulator will be defending the social networking company’s privacy practices in Washington.”

Users hate Facebook’s approach to privacy. They’ll get over it.: “Any minute now, expect a letter from Mark Zuckerberg. ‘We really messed this one up,’ the Facebook CEO might declare on the company blog. He’ll go on to explain that while the company remains proud of its new tools that allow users to share information more freely, Facebook ‘missed the right balance’ this time. Then he’ll promise to make a couple of immediate changes to mollify aggrieved members. He’ll also concede that Facebook needs to come up with a better way for people to manage their privacy setting, and he’ll ask us all to be patient while the site works through the problems. ‘We’re going to continue to improve Facebook, and we want you to be part of that process,’ he’ll say. He’ll close by offering his sincerest apologies, and he’ll commit to doing better next time: ‘I’m looking forward to reading your input.'”

Opinion: Why I left Facebook: “Christopher Breen details how the social networking service’s shifting privacy policies caused him to deactivate his account.”

Farewell, Facebook | The American Prospect: “Today I’m deactivating my account. Here’s why.”

More Reasons Why You Should Still Quit Facebook: “The response to the Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook was huge, although not without objections or doubts. Here are the some definitive answers from Dan Yoder that you should share on your Facebook walls…before disabling your account.”

The Media Attacks On Facebook And Mark Zuckerberg Are Getting Out Of Hand: “Friday is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 26th birthday. My guess is he’s won’t be enjoying it as much as he should, given that the top tech story of the day is a look at a private instant message exchange he supposedly had six or seven years ago at Harvard. The messages show a callous disregard for personal information added by early Facebook users. Given that Facebook is in one of its regularly scheduled privacy scuffles right now, the connection is just too juicy. The press has gone wild.”

Facebook Should Follow Its Own Principles: “About a year ago, Facebook suffered a tremendous consumer backlash over its changes to the Terms of Service. To quell the uproar, Facebook introduced a set of Principles.”

Facebook’s Huge Maze of Privacy Options Mapped Out [Facebook]: “The New York Times does the heavy lifting of actually plotting out Facebook’s headache-inducing privacy options, helping some of us to navigate 50 settings with 170 options, and the rest of us to shake our heads in disbelief.”

Facebook Calls All Hands Meeting On Privacy: “Facing increasing pressure from the media and users, Facebook has called an all hands meeting tomorrow afternoon, at 4 PM Pacific, to discuss the company’s overall privacy strategy according to sources inside the company. Facebook has come under increasing scrutiny for a number of reasons and many were left with a sour taste in their mouth following a New York Times reader Q&A with Elliot Schrage, the company’s Vice President for Public Policy.”

Facebook unveils new security features: “Facebook took the wraps off Thursday on two new security features aimed at protecting users from phishers and other online scammers.”

Facebook plans a privacy summit: “Facing a growing chorus of dissatisfaction from users, pundits, critics, and lawmakers, Facebook is reportedly holding an all hands meeting on to address the backlash against the company’s privacy policies.”

In The Middle Of A Firestorm Over Privacy, Facebook Releases New Login Security Features: “Facing a growing firestorm over its privacy policies in the wake of its plans to work its identity system into the underlying fabric of the Internet, Facebook responds the way it always does: by releasing new features.”

HOW TO: Get Notified When Someone Hacks Your Facebook: “Facebook just announced a tool that notifies you by e-mail or SMS text message when someone logs into your Facebook profile from an unknown computer.”

Facebook Now Serving More Than 50 Billion Banner Ads Per Month: “During the first quarter of 2010, Facebook served up more banner ads than any other website, according to new data from comScore published in The Wall Street Journal.”

Facebook Attracts More Phishing Attacks Than Google and IRS: “New research from Kaspersky Lab shows that the number of phishing attacks on social networks has increased in the first quarter of 2010, especially at Facebook, the fourth most popular online target.”

Determine Your Facebook Page’s Value [APPS]: “Social media management company Vitrue has released a free tool today, the Social Page Evaluator, designed to help marketers get a better understanding of a Facebook Page’s value.”

The Next Big Platform for Magazines Could be Facebook: “Today, Vanity Fair for the iPad appeared in Apple’s App Store. This summer, the title — and many others — may be available directly in your Facebook newsfeed.”

Facebook’s Social Plugins Now on 100,000+ Sites: “Despite ongoing questions about privacy, Facebook’s new social plugins continue to expand their footprint across the web, with the company announcing on Tuesday that more than 100,000 websites have now deployed them.

The plugins –- which allow websites to add Facebook-powered social features without requiring users to log in –- were announced less than a month ago at Facebook’s developer conference, and attracted more than 50,000 publishers in the first week.” (Via Mashable!.)

Facebook: Facts You Probably Didn’t Know [INFOGRAPHIC]: “Did you know that the second most popular Facebook Page is that of Homer Simpson, right behind Michael Jackson? Or that the overall amount of time spent on Facebook each month is 8.3 billion hours?”

Apple Extending Facebook Integration to iPhone OS?: “Silicon Alley Insider reports that a ‘plugged-in source in the mobile industry’ has indicated that Apple is building some form of Facebook integration into iPhone OS”

FarmVille Juggernaut Zynga Might Leave Facebook Soon: “Many people predict that the brewing troubles between Facebook and Zynga was caused by the 30% tax for each time Facebook Credits are spent. If Zynga does make a move away from Facebook, they will be able to avoid this 30% tax and earn more revenue, making the move a no-brainer.”

NSFW: Facebook Breached My Privacy, And Other Things That Whiny, Entitled Dipshits Say: “This week everyone‘s talking about online privacy. Specifically, they’re talking about Facebook and how the company protects user data, especially after it began sharing some of that data with ‘trusted’ third party sites like Pandora, Yelp and Microsoft’s Docs.com (whatever the hell that is).”


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