Monday, May 3, 2010

Is Facebook Evil?

It's not just hackers you have to worry about anymore... its Facebook itself!

My brother Joe and I have had at least 5 separate conversations about the continual evolution of Facebook. We're both latecomers to the party: I opened my account in August of '08 (I already had a MySpace since '05, but by then the mass exodus had already begun and most of my friends had hightailed it over to the greener and less prevy pastures of Facebook), while Joe opened his some time last year after being harassed by me to do so for months. By the way, thanks to his awesome Vampire War skills, he's now more popular than me, "friend-wise".

Anyway, Joe and I have noticed how many times our home pages and setting options have changed. For the latter, there were hazy explanations (disclaimers?), but neither of us could totally understand what it all meant (although Joe seemed to grasp it a tad more than me... I'll admit, after the start of the now seemingly omnipresent "Like" button, I started to fade). Now I know what it means, thanks to this informative MSNBC article. I just lost a lot of privacy.

"Pop quiz! What do you call "the act of creating deliberately confusing jargon and user-interfaces which trick your users into sharing more info about themselves than they really want to?"

Give up? Don’t feel dumb. Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a free speech, privacy, innovation and consumer rights advocacy organization, had a tough time wrapping its collective brain around the concept as it built its tutorial to help users through Facebook’s most recent privacy changes. So EFF turned to Facebook and Twitter users for help.

Suggestions for a term to easily describe mishegas such as “Facebook's bizarre new ‘opt-out’ procedures” rolled in. These included "bait-and-click," "bait-and-phish," "dot-confidence games," "confuser-interface-design,” and though EFF didn’t mention the social network specifically, more than a few that made creative use of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s name, such as this one called out on EFF’s site from @heisenthought on Twitter:

How about ‘zuck’? As in: ‘That user-interface totally zuckered me into sharing 50 wedding photos. That kinda zucks’"

Apparently people feel pretty strongly about Facebook’s latest privacy rollback, a new move to “personalize your (Web) experience using your public Facebook information,” even if you don’t fully understand what it means, let alone how to “opt out” of generously offering your personal info with the social network’s partner sites.

Take, for example, EFF’s favorite suggestion from @volt4ire, “Evil Interfaces.”

It’s a reference from a talk given by West Point Professor Greg Conti at the 2008 Hackers on Planet Earth conference, EFF notes. But if you want to get into Sci Fi movie references, consider this. As little as two years ago, the idea of Facebook usurping Google as the projected “Skynet” of our increasingly tech-dependent lives would’ve been laughable — or at least laughably lame in the running joke that sooner rather than later, our lives will be run by a “Terminator”-style artificial omnipresence.

But the most recent (and most egregious) privacy rollbacks make it unsettlingly obvious that the world’s largest social network is well placed to own the Internet, and all of your personal information, too. Let’s review. Here’s the bare-bones bullet list of what’s different:

If you visit Facebook’s partner sites Yelp, Pandora or Microsoft Docs, your information is shared unless you opt out on each, individual Web site. If your friends haven’t adequately battened down their own privacy stuff, then by proxy, you’ve shared their information, too.

Your interests are now linked to pages everyone can see. For example, if you have “pornography” as one of your interests, and you don’t actively opt out, you are now linked to the “Pornography” interest page on Facebook, viewable by your boss, Grandma, the world.

How exactly do you batten down your info, at least as much info as you can? Good question. More than a few publications have offered instructions on how to navigate opting out, but as EFF noted when it was researching and writing its own guide, more than a couple weren’t complete.

“These aren’t casual users not paying attention,” points out EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. “These are people who are trying to make instructions, and they still can’t file a complete ‘opt-out’ guide.”

To read the whole article, click here.

So is Facebook evil? Maybe just deceitful on the ominous path to devious. But now you know. And if you still decide to allow your face on this ever-expanding global book, stop by the Far Above Rubies Fan Page, and click that you "Like" it.

And if you've decided Facebook is just too evil, watch this clip from "South Park". You'll probably relate. Fair warning: it IS a "South Park" clip, so of course there is cursing.


Don said...

I honestly sat here and tried to read the article and it made my head ache. I gathered from the sentiment of the article that certain changes taking place on Facebook cannot be a good thing.

My woman and I usually monitor my 16 year old daughter's account and I must say that I never knew teenagers to appear so unruly and 'different' than when I was sixteen. Which, I guess, was light years ago.

If I can ever get my novel re-sold to a publishing company I had planned to create a Facebook page for that sole purpose.

I am sure there are many people who are cautious concerning whatever information they reveal. Just as I am sure there are many whose lack of thought will end up biting 'em in the long run.

Alisha De Freitas said...

Don... you have a 16 year old? So you had her straight out of kindergarten, huh? Lol.

Ok, there was a lot of back and forth, but basically for us FBers, if we don't want our personal interests blasted to all our friends (including Grandma), we need to now go back through each interest and "unlike" them or delete our "hobbies" that might link to naughty pages. I don't have that problem because, well, I would have enough sense NOT to write on a social networking site that I'm into something that could potentially embarrass me.

Also, I'm not necessarily keen on Pandora having access to my Facebook info and vice versa. Not because I think Pandora is bad, but one of FB's partners down the line could use my info (like what books I like, music I listen to, my age and family) and I might not want them to have such access unless expressly given.

Already, FB has ads that are targeted to me based on what I fill out (like since I got married, half my ads are about having babies). Since I have BA, it prompts to get a Master's at University of Phoenix.

Humph, probably I just made you more confused. Sorry. But what is your book about? And yes, if you get it republished, it is a great way to advertise. As you can see, I have 32 Blogger followers compared to 102 Facebook fans for this blog. It's definitely easier to spread info.

SLC said...

I need to check my FB settings. I've recently began receiving excessive junk mail, and I use FB and Pandora.
I like people to know, only what I tell them.

FB is great for marketing and networking, but they change the layout and other crap so often, I'm beginning to wish they had some competition.

Don I'll get the book. I'm about to order one of Moan's to add to Blogger's Delight.

Alisha De Freitas said...

@SLC The email I used to set up my Facebook account was a really old one I've had for years that I rarely check. I'm sure by now it's probably overrun with spammy garbage. I also never had my phone number listed. That always seemed like a bad idea!

Anonymous said... father's pastor is always preaching against FB - primarily because the younger members in the church show a COMPLETELY different side of themselves!

Alisha De Freitas said...

@Redpumpz, Lol! Well, what's done in darkness will brought to light!

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