I killed my Facebook. I took it out to Miller’s Crossing and put my finger on the trigger. The mouse button, I mean. It pleaded with me, over and over. It begged me not to do it. I shook my head and readied the cursor.
Sniveling, it showed me pictures of the friends who would miss me. I sneered. That algorithm doesn’t know who my friends are. I’ve had it with you, Facebook.
It’s one of the more troubling problems of the modern era — we as users demand increasing personalization and customization options. This, however, forces the companies that provide us with those services to expend increasing amounts of money in order to provide us with those options. They need to make money somehow … and hey, look! All that information you’ve been entering into Facebook in order to make it your own? Turns out advertisers will shell out beaucoup bucks to get their hands on it.
Hence the balancing act, which Facebook seems to be increasingly failing at in recent months. In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook, along with other social networking companies such as Digg, MySpace and Twitter, had been leaking users’ information to advertising partners including Google’s DoubleClick and Yahoo’s Right Media.
The problem stemmed from a fairly standard practice — websites identifying which links sent them inbound users. But because every page on Facebook is customized and unique, that information can be used to identify individual users — especially if the users haven’t restricted who can view personal information on their profiles.
These relative accidents, coupled with changes to the privacy settings hat Facebook made earlier in the year that defaulted more information to be visible to everyone, are causing an uproar. The U.S. Senate and the Federal Trade Commission are keeping an eye on what Facebook is doing; data protection officials in Germany are investigating the site’s privacy policies.
Meanwhile, individual users feel as if Facebook is neglecting their privacy, and they’re starting to defect (though to where, exactly, is uncertain).
Facebook’s response has varied, from stating they feel they’re within legal limits to doublespeak marvels like “We have heard from our users that our efforts to provide granular control have made things too complex.” Users, however, just want to lock down their profiles.
Facebook may just be a victim of larger societal trends. Anyone with a smartphone, after all, can be tracked by GPS, so there’s always going to be trouble when trying to protect people’s information on the Internet. The phrase “social network privacy settings” is itself an oxymoron. Go ahead and share information all you want with people whom you’ve self-selected as “Friends.” But whether you Like them or not, Facebook’s privacy settings aren’t the only way you can keep your private life out of the public sphere.
That’s why I’m logging off, disconnecting and de-tagging all my photos. I suspect that I will be back on Facebook at some point. Ultimately, it’s my own responsibility to manage my own social connections, personal information and predisposition to waste way too much time on stupid things. And Facebook is most definitely a stupid thing.
But it’s the stupid things in life that are comforting. Sometimes, you just want to talk about adorable kitten videos, you know?