Facebook Privacy

There's been a lot of chatter lately about Facebook's new privacy policy, especially about people deleting their accounts. Although the rules have changed, the decision about deleting your account is actually pretty simple.

I've seen a good deal of ranting about Facebook's new privacy changes. In particular, I see lots of people I respect talking about how they're considering deleting their Facebook profiles. I feel like there's not a ton to consider.

The decision: Is Facebook useful if all your data are public?

For me, that's what it comes down to: Is Facebook useful to you if you assume there are no privacy controls. There are lots of things I share without privacy settings: my blogs, my photos on flickr (almost all public, and nothing that would break my heart if a stranger saw it), my twitter account, etc. I get value out of having these resources online, and out of the networks around them.

With Facebook, the assumption about your content should be that it is public. The next question is, can you live with that? Can you keep what you share to be things that are only safe to have in public? Are there people on Facebook with whom you wouldn't communicate without it? Would that be a loss? Does interacting with those people require privacy? If you can still get value out of Facebook with everything being public, then stay. If not, stop using it; if you're not getting value, why would you keep using it anyway?

The rules have changed, the reality hasn't

Although Facebook has made it harder to control the privacy of your data on their network, I think it was insane to think anything that was there before was truly "private." We worked hard to drive this home to kids (and particularly teens) when I worked at McGruff, but perhaps we should have been targeting adults too. Realistically, you need to ask yourself, how careful are you with who you accept friend requests from? A few years ago, large companies started having interns from colleges friend recent recruits to get access to their profiles, and that was before the privacy changes. I know I've accepted friend requests from people I'm pretty sure I met at a conference or event. But I couldn't always tell you for sure who everyone with whom I'm "friends" on Facebook is. And those friends have access to my profile, my photos, and the things I post on Facebook.

The trouble has always been that interested parties could get access to a great deal of your profile data. I've certainly never considered it safe to consider what I post on Facebook truly private; I am typically much more concerned about a potential employer getting at my profile data than a company on Yelp anyway, and the chances that someone I'm friends with works at potential employer are pretty high. 

The risk for Facebook

I'm not claiming that Facebook will eventually turn our inboxes and private events into public feeds for anyone to see (at least not on purpose), but I wouldn't expect them to put worrying about the privacy of those data at the top of their concerns either. Their major concern is to leverage the social data they have about you to make your web experience more interesting, and then to leverage the same data to serve you better advertisements. Most of these privacy changes have been in the name of creating cool features to make a more interesting Facebook, not just to upset users. The risk is that that more interesting product is less valuable to users than being able to share their information in a privacy-controlled environment. My guess is features will beat privacy, and that the privacy-centered networks that people are talking about building will fail, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.