Compliance Management, Privacy, Threat Management

Privacy and security concerns aside, you’re OK in my book, Facebook

When I typed "How do I" into Google today, the first auto response to show was "How do I delete my Facebook account?"

"Whaaat?" was my first reaction. After all, this is the most popular website in the world. Why would anyone want to leave it?

In fact, just today a friend joined the site for the first time. Apparently he was being incessantly poked (no pun) and prodded to sign up by his peers, most of whom made fun of him for still relying on things like phone calls, emails and even, gasp, face-to-face communication to interact with others. He finally gave in. He told me he held off for so long out of "principle" and ultimately caved in due to "loneliness." (We'll examine his personal demons in a later blog post).

If this guy could join, someone who was so adamantly against the concept for so long, perhaps it's time to finally admit that Facebook controls the world.

But wait, you're telling me there is now a mass push to exit Facebook. I don't believe it. But it's true. The "how do I?" test doesn't lie. (Well, No. 5 is "How do I love thee." Not even sure what that means).

The fact is, though, that in recent months, Facebook has found itself mired in an increasingly deepening sinkhole around privacy. The crisis reached a peak a few weeks ago when the site announced its "Instant Personalization" and "social plug-in" features, which automatically opt in users to share data with some third-party websites in an effort to make their total web experience a more sociable one.


Privacy advocates are calling for founder Mark Zuckerberg's head - and these recently unearthed instant messenger exchanges from six years ago haven't helped the cause. Sophos' Graham Cluley, never shy of calling out Facebook for its privacy and security shortfalls, is hosting a poll asking users if they'll quit the Book. (Many say they will). And now's there a grass-roots internet effort forming that is asking users to avoid signing into Facebook for an entire day on June 6. It better be sunny out that day.

I'm not sold that Facebook is going to lose many members because of this whole debate, but if I were keeping score, I'd have Facebook down a couple of runs right now, if from nothing else than a bruised ego.

Of course, the ultimate goal of all of these new features is so Facebook can "expand revenue streams." It wants to make money, and who can really blame it? Wouldn't you want to be well compensated too if you were responsible for creating one of the biggest sensations of modern times?

Now, has Facebook been less transparent and explanatory than it should be when it makes these, and other, privacy changes to the website? Of course.

I agree with what Slate's Farhad Manjoo says:

Facebook could and should do a lot better on privacy. In particular, I'd urge it to introduce preset privacy levels. You should be able to go to your privacy settings and see one big dial that lets you choose one of five levels between "private" and "public." This setting would govern your entire profile; the more public you set the dial, the more you'll share with more people. By default, the dial would be somewhere in the middle, but you'd be able to shift it up or down at any time. You'd still be able to adjust more specific controls—you could set your profile to "public" but allow only close friends to see pictures of your kid—but few of us would ever need to.But Facebook shouldn't stop there—besides adding one big control, it should also promise to honor those controls in the future. The most frustrating thing about Facebook's privacy policy is that it's always changing.

I'm also wondering: Can Facebook have a customer service phone number to call if you have a problem? Can it do a better job to prevent against things like spam, phishing and malware? Can it better build in secure coding to its platform to prevent vulnerabilities like this one.

Any sort of privacy outcry (and potential revenue hit) will only work to make Facebook stronger on all those fronts.

Facebook certainly has the money to invest in improvements. Even though the service is free, it's not like Zuckerberg needs to stand on any street corner with a cardboard sign.

But it should surprise nobody that when a website with an estimated 500 million members makes some change, it is going to ruffle the feathers of a good number of users (and gain the attention of the media).

Remember the numerous layout design alterations that have occurred over the past couple of years. Judging from the status updates of my friends, it was like Facebook just axed their grandmother to death. They hated them. But I bet you if you ask someone to recall what the previous design looked like, they couldn't remember.

People don't like change. Plain and simple. But is Facebook nothing more than a data warehouse out to compromise your identity? Doubtful.

Let's appreciate Facebook for all it has done for us and what it will do for us in the future. Remember, we originally joined because we kind of, sort of like sharing our private things - photos, interests, happenings - with others.

Now's not the time to suddenly turn our backs on a site still finding its way.

We're just getting started.

My friend doesn't seem to be too upset. In fact, he just posted a status, not an hour ago: "I finally joined facebook, so please be gentle on me. this is a brave new world to me."

Remember to check your privacy settings, but don't you dare leave us.

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