Opinion: Facebook Invaded My Privacy, And All I Got Was This Lousy Timeline

Facebook’s made changes recently to just about everything it does, and even more changes are imminent. As if by clockwork, users of Facebook are up in arms unhappy about the privacy implications and the new interface look. This isn’t news; it’s just the latest in a long, long pattern of Facebook abuse.

As is seemingly traditional, a few pointers before I start ranting. This isn’t a guide to the new Facebook features, because, frankly, we’ve got more than enough of those here at Gizmodo. It isn’t an overview of the new features. It isn’t a review of timeline. It isn’t a guide on how to get Timeline early or, for that matter, a pointer to the fact that Facebook’s Timeline will let you see who unfriends you on a year by year basis.

Ahem. Anyway, as the latest round of public Facebook changes rolled out, my Facebook friends list exploded with outrage at the new changes. It was a flood of complaints largely about the whole subscription interface, whether you could pop back to it by switching to English UK (which you could, for a while) and what Facebook has done to stuff up user privacy. I’m sure that when Timeline rolls out for everybody, the whole stupid circus will kick up again.

Let’s review some basic facts. I’m assuming for the sake of this that you’ve got (or had) a Facebook account. By now, most folks online have. Anyway, Facebook is a business, and typically, businesses answer to two key things; the needs of the owners and the needs of the customers.

Unless your name happens to be Zuckerberg, Mark or a select group of venture capitalists, you’re not in the former category.

You’re also not in the latter category. At all.

You are not a customer of Facebook simply because you use the service. As has been said countless times before — I rather like this cartoon, but your tastes may vary — Facebook’s customers are the advertisers that fill its coffers with cold, hard cash. Facebook (essentially) sells user data in order to (theoretically) deliver better targeted ads and services. Sure, it misfires quite often — I’m a married man who’s quite sick of seeing ads for singles in my area, thank you very much — but that’s the theory. You provide the data en masse for Facebook to mine, and you do it for absolutely no money in return; the use of the service as Facebook chooses to provide it is your only recompense.

Facebook’s not even particularly subtle about this whole arrangement, or how they’ll modify the service to suit their advertising needs. No, I’m not just talking about the whole cookie tracking controversy here. It’s been implicit every single time that Facebook’s made changes to user privacy that require user intervention. If Facebook was serious about actual user privacy, it’s the one area that would have a simple locking mechanism. As new features evolve, that could have granular sub-locks attached to it if you wanted them, allowing you to fine tune a very basic privacy setting.

That’s never what happens though. Instead, you’ve got to jump through sub-menus to make all the granular changes yourself, hoping that you don’t miss one or get it wrong. Facebook’s programmers have got to know that most folks either won’t understand or won’t be bothered to do this, and that works to their advantage as it helps to grow the network’s value by increasing the value of the data within it. The more points of cross-correlation (be they friendships or shared posts) and the more reliable the data becomes, in simple terms.

So what’s the solution? You could, as some have, publicly swear off Facebook, delete your account and wait the requisite period for the account to be deleted. If you’re particularly fond of tinfoil headwear, you may then worry for the rest of your days that Facebook’s still got your data on file. Realistically, at least to cover its legal obligations, that part is probably true.

That’s an inconvenient solution if you still want to keep using Facebook, though. At the time of writing, it’s the pre-eminent social network, after all. These things are fluid and that may change over time — remember MySpace? No? You remember… MySpace! It was… big! For a while. Right now, it’s seemingly headed the way of Geocities.

More anecdotally, over the weeekend I caught up with a friend of mine who works at Macquarie University, and he was saying that many students there are raving about Google Plus. Perhaps it’s not a wasteland after all, and Facebook’s time is indeed limited. Predicting the future is tough, though, so for the moment, what do you do?

What I do is pretty simple. Yes, I’ve got privacy enabled at various levels for my social networking accounts, although I should note that anyone who follows me on Twitter and protects their account will be summarily blocked. Sorry about that, but you’re missing the point. Anyway, despite the fact that my information is theoretically protected, I treat absolutely everything I post as being public anyway.

It’s much simpler that way. Yes, I’ve put in silly status updates. I’ve put in status updates when I’ve been tired, angry, upset and very rarely when I’ve had too much to drink. I’ve even lost a friendship via Facebook. But I’ve always had the principle that my stuff is essentially public anyway in mind. There’s relatively few — perhaps one in a thousand — updates that I’d kill for all time if I could take them back — but nothing that I’m that urgently upset about.
After all, I can’t control what an offshore company does with information I put into their systems, either from a practical or legal standpoint. I can’t run their security to ensure my information stays private. Heck, I can’t even stop other parties from taking screenshots of Facebook pages and storing those images themselves, and that’s very simple brute force data mining at its most basic.

Facebook privacy — and any privacy at all online — is an utter myth. If you put it online, it’s online, end of story. Keep that in mind when you freely give out personal data, and it’s much easier to manage. Stay outraged at Facebook’s continuous privacy abuses, and all you’re doing is shrieking into the void.
Original Image: Alessio85

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