Archive for May 16, 2010

The Facebook privacy mess – keep it private, keep it safe

Posted in current events, politics, rant with tags , on May 16, 2010 by themisse

Most people who read this know me from social media. I love social media. I would take it out behind the school gym at prom and get it pregnant  then stick around to support the kid – that’s how much I love social media. I have pretty much always put myself “out there” on the web, even before social media existed. I have always had a website to share pictures and thoughts. Now I just use social media so I don’t have to code. There are very few parts of my life that are private.

Right now, what lovers (or just users) of social media choose to keep private is becoming the center of a messy controversy. With all the recent changes Facebook has made (again) to it’s privacy policy, the level of butthurt amongst its user base is skyrocketing. But with reason? I don’t know.

Personally, what I don’t want online, I don’t put online. I don’t put up scandalous pictures that I don’t want out there. I don’t discuss my dating life (because there isn’t one to discuss but shut up). I don’t discuss ex-friends. I don’t post (or take) n00dz. This has always worked fine in keeping me out of big privacy problems like having pics of my vajay leaked all over the net after a nasty breakup. Hell, I had a HUGE fight with my best friend where we didn’t speak for 8 months that every single person who was my real friend knew about and was never, ever mentioned online anywhere. What I want private doesn’t go online… usually.

But there are a few things that I do want to share with my friends via social media that I don’t want to share with the rest of the world. For example, I have an application that tracks my xbox gamertag and most recent achievements. My gamertag is not something I give out to anyone who isn’t a friend. But I keep getting randoms trying to add me or sending me crazy messages and I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how the FUCK they had gotten my gamertag.

But then I looked at my Facebook.

Now, I set up my facebook in the way yonder, when I didn’t know much about it. I thought it would be like MySpace; you put in your real name then pick an alias. So I inputted all my shit, gave it my usual domain name and moved on. Then I found out it locked you into displaying your full name and freaked out. I set everything to private and decided to keep it friend’s only, especially since Facebook made you fill out a 20 question application to be someone’s friend and wouldn’t let you add randoms, unlike MySpace. Now it is the only private social network I have – the irony of which is that everything I post to it is from my twitter so there is nothing on there that the public can’t see. Its actually my public facebook that gets the unique updates. But the privacy is nice to have a few things that I share between my friends and myself.

Which brings me back to my gamertags (and my WOW character names, for that matter). I work for a video game website. Most of my friends are gamers. As such, we like to compete or at least talk about our games. I totally drop in on my friend’s profiles to check out their XBox app and see what they are playing, maybe drop them a comment to quit playing MW2 or congratulate them on an achievement. I like having the box up there for new friends that are gamers or old friends that become gamers to check me out. And for the WOW box… well, its all to rep my Guild. (Number 1 on our server!) But I had to remove those boxes from my profile because with Facebook’s constantly shifting privacy policy, I’d have them set to private one minute then they’d be public the next. And once something is public knowledge, there is no “universal mind delete” button.

To have a fully private profile, the NYT made this great infographic breakdown of what a pain in the ass it is.

In short, you have to “navigate through 50 settings, more than 170 options, and a policy that’s 1,287 words longer than the United States Constitution — all just to keep info that was once private from being exposed to the world.” And this is my problem with the policy – not that is has shifted but that it is constantly shifting. Despite how I try to hide it, my information keeps getting exposed. I set everything to “friend’s only” only to find out that two months later Facebook has changed their policy AGAIN and now if I want to have the same privacy level as before, I have to go reset everything to the newly created “we mean it this time, it’ll only be your friends who can see this” setting.

So I went back to social media abstinence. Like with sex, the only way to be totally protected in the social media world is not to participate. But if you and some consenting adults (or minors, depending on the social network’s TOS about user age) want to have some nice, consensual social media interaction then you are relying on the site’s privacy policy and settings to be your condom. Unless you’re on something like BeBo or Orkut, which are more of a spermicidal foam, or MySpace, which is more of a pill you forgot to take. Right now, Facebook’s privacy controls are like using the rhythm method. With the constant changes and increasingly labyrinthine settings menus, you’ll think you’re 100% private like you were the month before and BAM! Stalkermail on your XBox. “Motherfucker!” you will yell, if you’re me and prone to yelling. “I just want to play Left4Dead! I don’t care that you think I’m a bitch. I know I am. My picture is on Wikipedia!”

And that is the frustration. I am a very public person. 98% of my life is online for all and sundry to look at and I like that. But that 2% of privacy I don’t want to have to fight to keep. I want to be able to have a few things that I share with my friends via social networks to stay private, not get constantly exposed by the receding tide of Facebook’s privacy settings.

Facebook set itself up as the closed-network, friends-only, don’t-add-randoms antithesis to MySpace. And it’s userbase expects that. When you all but force someone to give a DNA sample and passport to add a friend, it becomes an essential demand of the users. I never, ever, EVER shared personal info on MySpace because it wasn’t set up for that initially. Even after they made their “one-click-to-no-one-can-see-shit” privacy filter, I never shared private details. Ever. That wasn’t how it was set up and wasn’t how I used it.

If it was MySpace doing all this Open Graph, connect to everything using your account shit, I’d be stoked. Despite my level of social media presence, who I am online and who I am at home on the couch in my pjs are different people. Because Facebook was founded on and forced you into “these are your friends, you can only socialize with them” closed-network privacy, that account is more like myself. I don’t know if I want to log into Best Buy and have some aggregator pull info from my comments like when I posted “I masturbate to DVD sales” on a friend’s wall while I’m buying new headphones.

And that is another thing. Most of my “keep it private” refers to my friends. I may be fine posting updates on every little thing I do but a lot of them are very private. They are also often very far away; either in other states or countries, traveling, working, whatever. One of the absolute best things about social media is the ability to stay in touch with your friends all around the world – to join in conversations, to start rants, to talk about pictures or moments, and just generally be a part of their lives when you aren’t together. But my privacy settings shouldn’t affect what randoms or businesses can know about my friends and vice versa. Facebook finally put in a filter for this but that never should have been an issue to begin with.

My problem with the privacy policy boils down to how Facebook set itself up. If you are going to demand closed-network, friend’s-only exclusivity then you can’t suddenly be the champion of open information. And if you are going to make such a radical transition, you cannot make the process so difficult on your user base that its impossible for them to keep up. And yes, Facebook, I see through your tralalaing and granularity motherfuckery. You are hoping to swamp users with options so they give up trying to make stuff private and you can sell their info to the highest bidder. And that’s cool, man. I get trying to make a profit from a free service. But don’t tell your users you are doing it for them.

But if you’re a user, quit your fucking bitching. Its been well publicized that Facebook is changing its policies. Having cyber protests isn’t going to help. (And we’re never getting a Dislike button so shut up and move on.) To go back to my sex metaphor, if you know the rhythm method of privacy control Facebook is now forcing us to use isn’t going to protect your information, either don’t share it or deal with the consequences. If you don’t want companies to have access to your data, don’t use Facebook. No one make you use it, no one makes you share it. And yes, I get that not having social media in this day and age is weird and everyone should be able to participate and blah blah.

Yes, its weird to not have a user picture. But if you are SO uncomfortable with random people or companies seeing a single, solitary picture of you then maybe you should consider therapy. Afraid a company is going to fire (or not hire) you based on something you put on Facebook? Don’t put it on Facebook. Don’t play hookey from work then Foursquare into a concert and Flickr pictures. If you do, you deserve to be fired for being a colossal moron. And, for me, if I want to share my gamertag and all of that with my friends, I have to know that there is a potential for it to leak. So I can either only share it with my friends by giving it to them in person or I can put it on Facebook and remember that XBox has a block button just like every other site. We have to police ourselves instead of scapegoating social media for not having enough privacy filters in place.

A lot of the concern is about companies knowing what you like. You know what? If book publishers take the sparkle back out of vampires and a video game studio puts out a game where you get to be Jeffrey Dalhmer based on my facebook profile, I want a fucking MEDAL. I will not be bitching to Facebook. If letting Best Buy know I like Dexter is what keeps Facebook free and my DVDs on sale, hurrah. I really, really, REALLY like DVD sales.

Seriously, the internet is for sharing information – especially social media. The entire point of Foursquare is to check in to businesses. Businesses would be stupid not to use that publicly accessible and user-generated information. I have certainly gotten ideas for content for my companies social media outlets based on things my friends (or our users) have posted. Is this an invasion of privacy or a better way to listen and react to real user demands? When someone tweets “I love MW2. I want to watch some videos of gameplay,” is it an invasion of privacy if I tweet them to check out Respawn or is it a company that is actively looking to engage and expand the community? If 25% of our Facebook user base joins the group “I love Hello Kitty Island Adventure”, are we in the wrong to try to bring them content from that game since we wouldn’t have otherwise known it was to their tastes?

Facebook is changing because they realized that their initial business model – “keep it secret, keep it safe” – doesn’t work when you need to make money. So they opened up like all the other social media sites… but they didn’t communicate well with their users and they’ve made it too hard for users to maintain previous privacy settings. Where as before, a few buttons made the whole shebang invisible to anyone outside your network, the constant addition of new “tighter” privacy controls automatically pops that info to “everyone” so you have to refresh the privacy controls page like an eBay auction 30 seconds from ending.

As I said before, if MySpace did this, I’d be psyched. Twitter? Awesome. Google? Well, no, because they’d leak your private emails and call it GoogleBuzz. But Facebook saying Privacy is Dead is like Metallica saying Don’t Illegally Download. They are both right but you can’t have the champions of the Bootlegging Pass and the Exclusive Network try to head up that fight. And that is where a lot of this sentiment comes from. We, as users, don’t want our Facebook experience to change. There is an argument for having that exclusive group where you can socialize online with a spread out circle of friends.

But there is also the argument that Facebook is the world’s largest social media site. Not only do they need to pay their bills to keep the experience good for their users, they need to throw their weight around. If having Facebook link in to all these businesses means they get to go up against assholes like Walmart in shaping market trends, I’m all for it. If me just Liking “equal marriage rights for all” means that somewhere, someone is getting a notification there is another American who believes in this, terrific. Yeah, its kind of creepy that businesses have access to this information but I choose to put it out there. No one makes me. Its far less invasive than RFIDs that can track us anywhere on the planet.

So, Facebook, I get it. I don’t really like it but I get it. As a user, I’m asking you for better communication of what you are doing in the future. As someone who works in social media professionally, I know this isn’t always possible. As someone who has very little privacy left, I’d ask you to find a way to keep privacy preferences intact from old settings to new. As a technical professional, I know that is a more daunting task than it sounds.  As someone with not a lot of free-time, I’d like a streamlined set of controls for privacy. As someone who has designed by committee, I know that may not be in the plan. As an app and website designer, I appreciate the steps forward you are making for all of us. As a person, I don’t.

This Greyson kid is Tori Amos’ secret child.

Posted in music with tags , , , , on May 16, 2010 by themisse

They both love making over dramatic piano covers of great songs.

BONUS: a cover of Tori Amos by a metal band, Elvira Madigan


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