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Posted by on May 15, 2010 in Science & Technology | 0 comments

Facebook: Respect Our Privacy! Sign the Petition

Danah Boyd‘s SXSW keynote (full text, my excerpts) was all about privacy and focused on two case studies: Google and Facebook. Folks at Google responded with, “we’re trying to fix it, please help us.” Facebook?


For that, and for their offensive and offending moves since, Boyd has posted an important “rant” examining Facebook and “radical transparency.” Using quotes gleaned from David Kirkpatrick’s soon-to-be-released book, The Facebook Effect, along with her personal interactions with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Boyd says his underlying ethos is “that people will be better off if they make themselves transparent. Not only that, society will be better off.”

She believes that Zuckerberg and his company genuinely have a good-faith belief in that credo. But she believes what the company is doing is inherently dangerous and deceptive. A confusing maze of options that have to be found in order to opt-out of defaults isn’t consent, it’s trickery. Not all of us want to be as public as Facebook’s radical transparency makes us:

Jeff Jarvis gets at the core issue with his post “Confusing *a* public with *the* public”. As I’ve said time and time again, people do want to engage in public, but not the same public that includes all of you. Jarvis relies on Habermas, but the right want to read this is through the ideas of Michael Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics”. Facebook was originally a counterpublic, a public that people turned to because they didn’t like the publics that they had accessed to. What’s happening now is ripping the public that was created to shreds and people’s discomfort stems from that.

What I find most fascinating in all of the discussions of transparency is the lack of transparency by Facebook itself. Sure, it would be nice to see executives use the same privacy settings that they determine are the acceptable defaults. And it would be nice to know what they’re saying when they’re meeting. But that’s not the kind of transparency I mean. I mean transparency in interface design. […]

Over and over again, I find that people’s mental model of who can see what doesn’t match up with reality. People think “everyone” includes everyone who searches for them on Facebook. They never imagine that “everyone” includes every third party sucking up data for goddess only knows what purpose. They think that if they lock down everything in the settings that they see, that they’re completely locked down. They don’t get that their friends lists, interests, likes, primary photo, affiliations, and other content is publicly accessible.

If Facebook wanted radical transparency, they could communicate to users every single person and entity who can see their content. They could notify then when the content is accessed by a partner. They could show them who all is included in “friends-of-friends” (or at least a number of people). They hide behind lists because people’s abstractions allow them to share more.

Boyd says we’re being duped:

The battle that is underway is not a battle over the future of privacy and publicity. It’s a battle over choice and informed consent. It’s unfolding because people are being duped, tricked, coerced, and confused into doing things where they don’t understand the consequences. Facebook keeps saying that it gives users choices, but that is completely unfair. It gives users the illusion of choice and hides the details away from them “for their own good.”

If anyone is an expert on Social Media, Boyd is. Her rant is rigorous and sound; a link-filled, informed, articulate, angry call to awareness and understanding of what’s going on. Millions of Facebook users have no real understanding of what they’re giving away. Boyd wants us to “make certain people are 1) informed; 2) have the right to chose; and 3) are consenting without being deceived.”

I urge you to please read Boyd’s full post. Then go sign the petition declaring:

“Sites like Facebook must respect my privacy. They should not share information about me or my friends with other companies without my explicit permission”

The info graphic (above) quickly and clearly shows just how much of your previously (semi-)private information is now “shared” across the web. Also check out The NYTimes, Facebook Privacy: A Bewildering Tangle of Options. A highlight:

How do I delete my Facebook account was a fast growing search query this week. There’s no little evidence that people are actually doing it. (Here’s how.) NYU students have raised over $100,000 to build a Facebook alternative.

You can find me @jwindish, at my Public Notebook, or email me at joe-AT-joewindish-DOT-com.