A Tale of Two Facebooks: Are Privacy and Public Platforms Opposing Forces?

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163159223Facebook portrays itself as a social enabler. A simple peek underneath the hood however reveals a different story. In Mark Zuckerberg’s quest to grow his company’s profit margin, he’s decided to put the kibosh to your privacy and pimp out your personal information to the highest bidder. The question is, does anybody care?

Facebook has taken the position of defining privacy and public platforms as opposing forces. The truth is that people want both. In April 2013, a Consumer Reports national survey revealed 71 percent of those polled voiced concerns about online firms sharing their personal data without their permission. A September survey by Pew Research Report showed 86 percent of Internet users taking steps to mask their digital footprints.

Numbers such as these suggest that people care about their privacy but fall prey to the exciting benefits of a public platform. That basically makes Facebook social media’s Twinkie. You know it’s not good for you, but you enjoy it anyway.

The problem with online privacy is that in many ways it is too esoteric a concept when compared to the instant tangible gratification of social interaction. So Facebook keeps pushing the envelope and people keep taking it. Consider that in the past few weeks, Facebook has removed privacy settings that protected against public profiles. Now, everyone can find anyone through the main search bar. So much for laying low, right?

Better than the decision itself, though, is Facebook’s stated reasoning behind the action. According to Facebook, the feature outlived its usefulness because people could find you anyway through friend’s contacts lists or newsfeeds or tags. In other words, Facebook couldn’t really maintain your privacy to begin with, so now that the cat’s out of the bag, they’ll just make the loss of privacy more direct.

Just this past week Facebook announced that it’s going to let teens, ages 13-17, post publicly. That’s open season for online stalkers. What could Facebook be thinking here? Well, truth be told, Facebook has been losing the all-important teen demographic for years due to the influx of parents using the site and kids preference for other sites such as Snapchat. To draw them back into the fold, Facebook seems willing to overlook the means to the end here.

Most everyone knows that the rapid advancements of online technology have far outpaced privacy. That’s hardly flashing news. But what Facebook has undertaken to do is dangerous, immoral, and a violation of our country’s Bill of Rights. Consider the following:

  • Facebook bugs have led to the leaking of private contact information of more than 6 million users.
  • Facebook stores information about all your contacts, whether they’re a Facebook user or not.
  • Facebook receives data about you whenever you interact with Facebook (even sites with only a Facebook “like” button).
  • Facebook claims it can use information it receives about you to protect its rights or property, not yours.
  • Facebook lost a suit earlier this year for using people’s images in paid advertisements without their permission.
  • Facebook stores your data for as long as necessary without defining necessary, meaning they can continue to hold it after you no longer use the site.

Let’s go back to that earlier point about privacy and public platforms being opposing forces. That is a myth perpetrated by the king and his subjects. You can have both. There are emerging social networks out there that prove this point. Take Sgrouples for example. Sgrouples provides a safe social alternative to Facebook, where users can send private messages, email, and share content only with who they want. They can control searches as well. Sgrouples states in their short 100+ word Privacy Bill of Rights that they do not spy, stalk, or data scrape. What they provide is a social forum that adheres to privacy rights.

Companies such as Sgrouples or the private search engine DuckDuckGo are sending a message to social media monoliths the world over that if you pay heed to public sentiment for privacy within social media, you can carve out the next great niche in online technology. From the ashes of today’s kings a new social medium will arise. Such is the lesson of technology told over and over again.

About Marc Freeman

For more than twenty years Marc Freeman has made his living working behind things; the camera, his keyboard, his laptop, and taller people. Since graduating from Pomona College, he has travelled between Los Angeles and Seattle as a film and television writer, copywriter, editor, and journalist. His work has included well-known projects such as Terminator 2, Home Alone, The Fugitive, Will and Grace, and Bill Gates Last Day at Microsoft video. In recent years he’s also written jokes for comedic performers such as members of Second City. Marc squeezes time in as a college film professor where he enjoys talking shop but hates grading papers. He has a wife, daughter, and dog who are all much prettier.
Posted in: Business, Constitutional, Consumer, Law, Privacy, Social Media, Society, Technology