Facebook: Friend, or Frenemy?

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

May 03, 2010 GMT
Rikki Kite

Last week Ubuntu User, in partnership with The World Company, provided live streaming from the Free State Social in Lawrence, Kansas. This first-time event was a huge success – the tickets sold out, people participated remotely via live stream, and the speakers provided a nice mix of expertise.

My favorite talk was Gowalla co-founder and CEO Scott Raymond's Location-Based Social Networks. (Did you know that Scott used to live here in Lawrence, Kansas? Now you know.)

I wasn't familiar with Gowalla before Scott's session, but now Gowalla is available for the Blackberry so I plan to give it a spin. At the end of Scott's talk, he took some audience questions. One audience member asked Scott about kids and Gowalla, and Scott answered that they aren't marketing the app for use by minors because of the privacy and safety issues involved. I like that Gowalla guy already.

Meanwhile, back on the farmville, Facebook doesn't seem to be taking anyone's privacy into consideration.

Over the past couple of weeks there's been lot of discussion online about Facebook's handling of user-provided information. Frankly, I'm worried. I double-checked my own settings and was disappointed to see that information I thought only my friends could see was just hanging out there in the e-breeze. Then when I tried to restrict that information, I had to use documentation provided by other Facebook users instead of information supplied by Facebook.

Then I checked my 13-year-old daughter's information. She assured me that her information was private and only her friends could see it. She was surprised when we checked her account and found that a lot of her information was hanging out there in the e-breeze, too.

What does Facebook say about their privacy policy? "Privacy is built around a few key ideas: You should have control over what you share. It should be easy to find and connect with friends. Your privacy settings should be simple and easy to understand." Perhaps they'll update this page soon because it looks like they forgot it existed.

A day or two after I'd discovered how unprivate our private accounts were, I saw a post from another smart cookie who was also shocked by Facebook's loose lips. Carla Schroder eloquently summed up the situation:

"WTF. Facebook is following me all over the web. For example, on CNN.com it shows a couple of my FB threads under 'Friends's Activity.' I thought I turned all that crap off!"

Soon after that post Carla provided this link: How to Opt Out of Facebook's Instant Personalization.


If you're going to 'like' anything on Facebook right now, I suggest you start with the EFF page. Today they posted a link to an article written by their former intern, Ruben Rodrigues, Facebook's Anti-Privacy Monopoly.

Ruben writes, "The real reason Facebook’s been clawing back user control over private information, and exposing more and more user info to third parties, isn’t because of some grand shift in social norms or the the conceptualization of online privacy. Rather, it’s simply the result of what happens when a company develops a natural monopoly due to network effects: all of a sudden they can charge more without offering additional benefits. In this case, that 'charging' occurs by extracting more value (your private info) from users without offering additional desired benefits or services." (Check out his entire article and look for more from Ruben in the upcoming book The Offensive Internet.)

For now, I'm not deleting my Facebook page – it's been a great way for me to connect with friends and family and with many of the great people I meet at industry events or who I chat with or follow online. I just hope that people stay aware of how the information they've trusted to Facebook is being used.

Perhaps you, like me, will still want to be friends with Facebook. But instead of sharing private information with Facebook like you would with your best friend, maybe you'll want to step back a little and reconsider: Facebook might be your best frenemy.


  • Frenemy Indeed!

    Agreed! Unfortunately, I don't think FB really cares about our privacy. WE all need to be more involved if we want to see them behave differently. Precisely why I support the EFF and EPIC.
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