Friday, August 5, 2011

The Facebook Betrayal

I NEVER used to use my real name online. I knew it was a risk. You put your real name out there, you type comments, you post pictures, you search things and you will be held accountable for them at some point.  Whatever is on the internet is there forever.

I was aware and wary of this very early on.  There were a lot of people that were as well I'm sure but that paranoid group seems to have dwindled to a small few. Since the days of BBS and much later AOL, using your real name was a rare occurrence. Usually you could spot those who weren’t technically savvy by their blatant use of their real name as a username. They fell into two groups; one, they had no idea how dangerous it could be or two, they didn’t really think it would ever affect them.

Then came social networks and their "Let me tell you about me!" architecture.

You lost that anonymity whether you wanted to or not. If you made one friend or linked to one family member, your identity was discoverable. Still, I was resisting. I used a pseudonym. Why make it easy for people right?

Enter Facebook with its promises of privacy.

Here is a snippet from their privacy policy in 2005

No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.”

I thought, “Hell, I’m in the tech industry and my employers are starting to question why I don’t have an online presence.” You couldn’t find a single thing when you searched for my real name and I in fact had quite the online presence. I wasn’t famous by any means but I was actively moderating several multi-hundred member user groups, posting reviews on a variety of websites, I had a website that experienced some level of success (one that earned me an interview with a very prestigious media outlet) and even made a few thousand hit videos on YouTube. None of them were using my real name or information.

Companies were already starting to take part in the Facebook pastime even performing background searches using it. I figured I had to make a clean entry by creating a now socially accepted and politically correct profile. The moment I did a tremendous (in my opinion) amount of people started adding me.

Old acquaintances and family alike were coming out of the woodwork. Most of them were people that I had little to no contact with until now. I accepted a few under my wife’s suggestion. Why not give these estranged adults a second chance? Perhaps they too have matured. Some of them did yes, but many of them did not. Unfortunately that is also evident in your profile. The type of people you associate with is reflected in your Facebook profile in many different ways.

There is an old saying that comes to mind that I’m sure has many variations. It goes roughly, “Show me who your friends are and in turn I will show you who YOU are.” In the workplace, that becomes PAINFULLY true. Some of the more embarrassing acquaintances are proud of their lifestyles and never hope to seek a professional job that requires any sort of background check into their legal or illegal activities.  Since I used my real name I started removing some of those acquaintances and making good use of Facebook’s privacy settings. That’s when I noticed things were changing.

Every few months it seemed there were new additions to the terms of service. These changes were always sharing more and more of your information. Whenever there was an update, it became a tradition of mine and a few other privacy minded individuals to figure out how to lock that information down. Little did we know that the folks Facebook was selling this information to had unlimited access to it all regardless of our privacy settings. (See: Pete Warden) or (Search: Facebook Open Graph API)

The problem with Facebook and similar social networks is that they DO offer a great service. I am NOT a social butterfly in person but I do enjoy good conversation, sharing photos and publicly contemplating and discussing current and future events. Those are all desires which are completely satisfied by social networks and blogs. These services are FAR from free. In fact, some of them are downright thievery especially when concerns are raised about photograph republishing rights. A shame because one of the primary reasons I like social networking is the photo sharing capabilities. I firmly believe that social networks are a major reason why smart phones are experiencing an incredible increase in sales. What Facebook did was centralize all these other offerings and then capitalized on their success by selling our content and information.

I understand hosting is expensive and that they MUST make their money from somewhere. Ads are frowned upon since they often become obtrusive, offensive or questionable altogether. I for one prefer limited ads (much like those previously shown by Google) since they can be removed or banned from whatever social network you’re accessing. When it is the social network itself that is taking your data…we have a MAJOR problem.

Enter Google+

The first concern usually raised is how do we trust a company that earned its fame and fortune from producing search results to keep our content from being found itself? Unfortunately we have really run out of options. Sharing on the internet is public to some degree no matter how you look at it. What Google+ offers is not a better package but a fresh beginning.

In my opinion, Google is the ONLY company savvy enough (not to mention well known) to overpower the beast Facebook has become. Google’s terms of service may change at some point in the future sure but currently it is a much better package than what Facebook is doing. The mistakes Facebook continues to make are with their apparent complete disregard for the concerns of the users. Direct support is borderline nonexistent and opt-in content sharing is ALWAYS on by default without any broadcast regarding changes.

It doesn’t seem that way (yet) with Google+. I think that’s reason enough move. After continuously pulling the carpet out from under us, 750 million users or not, you will find yourself alone again Zuckerberg. The internet is a fickle bitch and I think your time will be up soon.

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