Facebook users vent their rage at “privacy” violations

It seems that many, if not most, Facebook users do not like the changes made to the system, namely, the addition of the “News Feed” and “Mini News Feed” that quickly allow one to see all the updates that another Facebook user has done. In effect, these new additions make it easy to “track” what another user has been up to, since the events are tagged with a timestamp and provide all the details.

Since the changes were put into effect, scarcely a day ago, a bevy of groups voicing their opposition to the new features have sprung up on Facebook. Many of them are united by the fact that the news feeds crowd their starting page now, and cause information overload – something I criticized as well. However, most of them decry these new features as being huge breaches of privacy and point to how they make stalking much easier.

Outrage and calls for a boycott

Many anti-changes-to-Facebook groups have been formed, but the largest one (with an online petition), has almost 500,000 users and is still growing at a fast pace. Many of the comments talk about how this is turning Facebook into a ripe target for stalkers, and of the potential for privacy violation. Certainly such a large group of people can’t be wrong?

The Internet is not private

While I admit these changes do help to advertise events in such a way that more people find out about them then some would like to, I don’t believe it fundamentally affects the privacy of Facebook. As I mentioned in my original post, this will hopefully serve as a reminder that privacy on the Internet, even it is in a seemingly locked-away area such as Facebook, is something that one cannot expect. If you post information in a publically-accessible area on the Internet, someone will eventually find out about it, either by mistake or through the Googlebot.

However, much of these concerns are ill-placed. As mentioned on the Facebook blog, no extra information that wasn’t publically available before, has been made available by this update. All it does is aggregate all of that information about your friends in a way that’s supposed to make it easier for you to read. I agree that some options should be provided – such as what information you want to see about your friends (eg. I don’t care that someone wrote on someone else’s wall), but if you don’t want your information showing up on other people’s feed, simple disable those options in your privacy setting in Facebook.

Of more concern

What’s more important to know is that Facebook is not a secretive place and has never been. It’s already been used to identify and charge people for offences because of photos someone posted of them committing incriminating acts. It’s also reportedly used by employers concerning potential employees. Don’t think that someone can access your profile if they’re not in your network? Patriot Act – Read it. (Shameless Arrested Development quotation) Are your privacy rights being violated by all this information-gathering online? I don’t know, maybe; but the lesson here is clear. If you don’t want to take the chance having something private revealed about yourself, don’t post it online.

A rude wakeup

Any big change to a user interface is bound to cause some uproar, but this has provoked extra outcry because it has outlined the true nature of “privacy” on Facebook. The default privacy options are apparently too loose for most people, but most people haven’t bothered to change them – until now. Additionally, many people simply add whomever requests it to their friends list, without thinking about whether they would want that person to be privy to certain bits of information they post on Facebook. While I do think that some changes need to be made now with the new features, I don’t think that these new features intentionally infringe on privacy. The features were meant to allow one to quickly share updates with friends – not with random people you just add as friends. Perhaps people will exercise more discretion in the future, returning Facebook into a real “social” network.

Update (2006-09-08)

Facebook has responded by making changes to allow users to choose what updates and information they want to be displayed in the News Feed and their Mini-Feed. Sounds like a good way to ease in the changes, as people can now decide what they want advertised – they should have done this from the beginning, but it’s nonetheless good to see them listening to their users.

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