Facebook’s recent privacy moves — and the company’s response to the ensuing criticism — plug in to much larger issues. Specifically, the changing perspectives on privacy and the give-and-take between user data and online services.
The implications from these bigger shifts extend beyond individual users. Many companies now rely on social media, so there are business-level repercussions at play here as well.
I got in touch with Tamar Weinberg, author of “The New Community Rules,” to explore these various threads. In the following Q&A, she discusses Facebook’s position in the privacy world and she looks at how broader privacy changes affect consumers and businesses alike.
What’s your take on Facebook’s relationship with privacy?
Tamar Weinberg: Facebook likes to think it can get away with everything. A lot of the time, it can. I don’t think the privacy move was a good one, though. Just recently, I was viewing a friend’s profile where she said that one of her favorite activities was “being Abigail’s mom.” This activity was now clickable and turned into one of Facebook’s Community Pages, which are public wikis. I noticed that there was another mother, unrelated to the first, who also had a similar activity. Furthermore, the page itself had a status update from a third mother who was also a mother to an Abigail. This is private information that now becomes public, and quite frankly, it’s creepy.
A service like Blippy seems to represent an alternative, completely-open mindset. Will the population of people putting it all out there increase?
TW: Yes, absolutely. I’m not ready to share my personal purchases, but Blippy tells me what my friends are doing, and there are active users on the service. Members of Generation Y are aware that all the information they are posting is public, and those already present in the online space are not going to shy away from being as public as possible. In fact, if you think about it from an online reputation management perspective, the more pages you have about you on social networks, the less likely other websites with negative mentions of you will crop up — and if they do, they’ll be buried by the innocuous stuff.
Are consumers getting comfortable giving up certain personal information in exchange for a service?
TW: I don’t even know if it’s an exchange for a service that they’re doing it for. Yes, you pay Facebook with your data. But you can still get the same usage out of Facebook without providing all of that data. The information exchange is not necessarily being given to the “service,” if you will. It’s being given so that other people on the service can find you. But the service essentially acts as a conduit to facilitate those connections.
Do you think people outside the tech universe care about the Facebook/privacy debate?
TW: They certainly do. An old teacher at my high school alma mater is the administrator of the largest privacy group on Facebook. If you’re active in the Facebook community, you might be worried about the visibility of the data. You don’t have to be in the tech community — you just have to be a regular user of Facebook.
What privacy advice would you give to a company that’s just moving into the social media space?
TW: The bottom line: whatever you say online is public, whether you are doing it in a public medium or not. I can post on my Facebook wall, and one of my friends can repost that information to his blog. Making content public does not necessarily have to be facilitated by the service itself; someone else can do it for you.
Also, think twice before saying something questionable because Google as a search engine has a super long-term memory.
Can you point to specific services that handle the give-and-take between social media and privacy well?
TW: One service that comes to mind is chi.mp. It’s a stream that aggregates other social profiles, and you have three major profiles for the professional, the private, and the public. Each specific stream can be made visible to only certain personas. That said, its controls are a bit confusing since there are so many settings. Facebook does have a good handle on privacy controls (at least in my opinion — there are a billion settings), but recent changes and heightened confusion is really what drove this recent privacy story to light.
This interview was condensed and edited.