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The New Swine Flu: Facebook Privacy Issues
As of late, there has been an unusual excitement on the subject of Facebook and its steadily decaying privacy policies. One need only do a Google search for “Facebook privacy,” and you’ll be presented with a plethora of facts, opinions, and rumors about the giant and its evil emperor, Mark Zuckerberg. The truth is that Facebook are a bunch of dirtbags out to sell whatever part of you they can. It’s the web– get used to it. Anything published online is never again yours. That said, it still doesn’t mean that Facebook’s privacy issues aren’t scammish at best.
I’m not incredibly worried about my information being mined by bloodthirsty advertisers or nosy coworkers– a simple Google search for my real name or my online pseudonym will give you in total over 170,000 results. What’s already public I don’t mind being public (mostly… there are some blog posts and comments from my younger years that I have yet to eliminate). So the leeching privacy issues on Facebook aren’t a major concern for me. For a large proportion of the remaining Facebook users, I’m not so sure how concerned they ought to be.
The real privacy threat on Facebook is applications. Aside from the fact that 99% of them are all time-wasting crap, many of them are either ignorantly insecure or purposefully loose with your and your friends’ information, and there are still many that can and should be considered malware; if a user is unaware, I’ve known of some applications that install themselves automatically and then post garbage such as pornography on the pages of the user and the user’s friends. What especially worries me is that the Facebook applications of my friends– applications I had no choice in installing or sharing my information with– can take and use my information as per the policy. Luckily one can turn off the sharing of this information in the privacy settings on one’s profile, but they’re tuned on full force by default. I stopped using applications on Facebook when I found out that all of them are a bunch of trash, and I’m not about to let the apps on my Farmville-addicted friends’ profiles take my information without my consent.
While privacy probably isn’t as big of an issue as the media is making it out to be (just another Swine Flu extravaganza they’re having, really), I do believe that there is definitely a threat out there, and it’s really up to the users of not only Facebook but any website to be wise with their personal information. The best way to decide whether to share something online is this: if you’re uncomfortable with the world reading it, then don’t share it. In the end, the most secure place to keep information is either your own head or an inconspicuous journal on the shelf.
Hello. I’m Jordan Spencer (Hi, Jordan Spencer). I’ve been on Facebook for a year now, but I haven’t logged on for twelve hours! (Wow! Good work!)
We have to face it eventually. Most people who use Facebook are addicts. We joke about it to make ourselves feel better, but it’s in reality an awful truth. I joined the bandwagon rather late for a person of my age and generation. Most had Facebook accounts by the time they were fifteen or sixteen, but I refused to fall into the pit until over halfway through my senior year of high school. That didn’t keep me from creating a fake account of a 90 year-old man from England who had the uncanny ability of knowing details of my friends’ and associates’ lives, though.
Those who know me at all know that I have a very deep hatred towards Facebook (yet you still use it! Hypocrite!). Almost everything about it I loathe. From its plastic, Wal-Martish, McDonald’sish, mass-produced design and feel to its ridiculous assumptions of whose updates I want to read most– I feel more and more depressed every time I type the “f” in the address bar of Google Chrome.
In fact, I have the feeling that many others share my views on this subject– even if they’re addicted in such a way that they do what they hate to do, but they do it because it’s simply so accessible and easy. Because of this feeling, I’ll share below in neat bulleted points why I dislike Facebook and why I like Facebook:
Why I Despise Facebook
- As stated previously, its design and aura simply feel too much like the impersonal and crowded Wal-Mart– the pretending and unhealthy McDonald’s– the plastic and utterly annoying High School Musical –the astronomically fake and middle-school-esque Twilight.
- It’s an incredible waste of time even without the trash-apps such as Farmville, Mafia Wars, and those various “Answer questions about your friends” ones. Because of its ease of access and perpetual change, it’s very tempting to log on multiple times a day just to see what’s new or to see if anyone has commented on my latest. Also, it’s too tempting to merely “Surf the Face”– let other more important duties and activities (including but not limited to: work, hygiene, house-upkeep, eating, and sleeping) fall to the wayside in favor of putting my nose too far into other people’s books or trying to get other people to put their noses in mine.
- The main function of Facebook is self-promotion. Pride in oneself– probably not always a wholly healthy pride, either. White Wonder Bread. If I can think up something clever in 420 characters or less, then I can get a hundred people to read my clever thought within an hour on a Wednesday night, and I therefore feel awesome. Under the surface, though, we’re spending too much time compressing our thoughts into 420 characters (or expressing them via shared links or YouTube videos) and trying fill our self-esteem cups by trying to sound spiffy to our friends or acting ambiguous to make our friends curious as to how awesome we really are. I sometimes see people being curiously mysterious in a depressing way to seek attention and make people feel sorry for them (does “[subject name here] needs a hug. :(” sound at all familiar?)
- Facebook promotes the decay of language use as a person is confined to a set amount of text. Of course, so does texting and with a worse degree– both ought to be used with caution.
- We do not act online the same way we act in person.
- People are more often more rude and/or loose on Facebook than in person.
- If left unchecked, our relationships can become more online than real– more shallow than personal. Facebook can be a good tool for supplementing already existing relationships, but any sole-Facebook or sole-online relationships won’t get very far past business.
- While many online ways of communication have downfalls, bugs, annoyances, and other problems, Facebook is the epitome– the armpit, if you will– of them all.
- As previously mentioned, Facebook’s privacy is a joke.
- Of the 300 “friends” I have, I really only care to keep in touch with perhaps 100 of them. Of those 100, I really only talk on an individual basis (on or offline) with perhaps 30-40.
- I’m sick of receiving friend requests from the friends of friends who I’ve never met nor communicated with before.
- I’m sick of being spammed with group and page invitations.
- Sometimes I begin to feel like a stalker while using it, especially late at night. Any service that makes a person feel like a stalker should be handled with extreme care.
- The name of the site is stupid.
- Everybody else is doing it.
- The site is characterized by middle-school children wasting their time being awesome.
- I could probably name more if I cared to.
Why I Like Facebook
- I get to keep in touch with or at least have some general idea as to what’s going on in the lives of those 100 people (as previously mentioned) where I normally would only get to stay in touch with perhaps ten or twenty regularly.
- I generally know of the shindigs and events that are upcoming.
- I can plan and invite just about all of my buddies to shindigs and other events with ease.
- If I need to contact a friend I don’t talk to very much, I can usually contact this person and receive a reply within a day or two.
- I get to sometimes feel clever with what I post albeit the vicious pride cycle.
- Sometimes people share very interesting and/or hilarious news articles, videos, and more that I would otherwise not have known about.
- If I need to share information to a wide group of people quickly whether they want to know it or not, I can do so.
- I’m sure I could think of more, though not quite as many as I have reasons for despising Facebook.
The Truth? We Didn’t and Still Don’t Really Need Facebook
The truth is that just about all functions that Facebook provides that actually have worth were already available via email, chat, and blogging– already provided for free by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and a handful of other major companies. Sure, Facebook has most of these common tools all in one package and lets a person get the job done a little easier and usually faster, but only at the sacrifice of one’s privacy and almost always with the sacrifice of one’s time: regardless of argument, a large portion of Facebook users are addicted and do needlessly waste time keeping track of the lives of others when they can’t even keep track of their own. To some extent, I have the very disease.
That’s the truth. The problem? Most people don’t utilize the tools already given to them. I used to have to email about 200 students and a handful of parents to keep them updated regarding their financial status with a certain organization dealing with the beauty of music. While I have no actual percentages, I can honestly say that there were a large portion of people who complained to me when they ran into trouble or never knew their financial standing with the group because they never checked their emails even when I told them that I’d generally send out an update at least once a month– even when I told them all the very day I sent it out. Also, only a few of my friends who I’ve emailed rarely seem to check it, and I’ve rarely seen more than three friends online with the chat feature (not including business and other similar contacts). As for blogs, I’m the only person I know of my friends who has actually posted at least one update on my blog per month.
If you say “I don’t use email and chat nor do I blog because I don’t use computers as much as you do,” I dare you to monitor the time you spend on Facebook. Monitor the time you spend actually communicating with someone you wanted to communicate with (not that we hate all of our Facebook friends, but we generally don’t think in advance about how most of them are doing). Monitor the time you spend communicating in chat, comments, and wall posts saying things that really don’t matter. Monitor the time you spend with Facebook applications that you really didn’t need or maybe even didn’t want to use. Only you can decide for yourself if it’s too much, but my bet is that, if you look at yourself honestly, it probably is. Do you really have more time than you thought to email the more intimate friends and blog in more detail about things in life?
Of course, I used to have quite a few email threads going on with close and not-so-close friends back in the golden olden days. There were some rather wonderful conversations that were borne through the phone and fibre optic cables. People actually wrote back. Now that Facebook is so popular, though, it seems as if nobody uses email anymore for personal, intimate use.
A Call to Arms?
Do I hate Facebook? Yes. Do many others? Yes. Is Facebook still useful even with all of its “features” (what I’d like to call “faults”)? Yes. I don’t propose that every Facebook user do a mass walk-out and never use it again. That would be just about the most beautiful thing I think I could see on the internet, but it’s not going to happen. I do propose, however, that people try using the archaic tools of pre-2010– email, chat, and blogging. I think if a person exerts more effort into communicating with people using those methods that actually take thought to use and put less effort into Facebook, he or she will find that his or her online communication is much richer than with the mass-produced friends, as it were, at Facebook. I also propose that we spend less time in online communication in general and more time with real, live people in person.
In the end, any website and any software really can be addicting and wasteful. Facebook is just more so than most. Each site and each software is just a tool– it all depends upon the user of that tool whether it is a good or a bad thing. I would hope that we, this digital generation, would take the initiative to actually be responsible and use these tools wisely.
I’ll probably be told that I want some entity like the government to control what we do with our time; I’ve been told that before when ranting about how people waste time watching too much television or playing too many video games. It’s actually just the opposite of what I’m saying: Facebook, television, computers, the internet– all of these can weasel their ways into the human mind and really begin controlling what we do with our time. The most dangerous thing is that we think we’re in control when really we’re slowly being sucked into the will of Big Blue– Big Brother– Facebook. Our generation has such a problem of making choices wisely and taking responsibility for our actions. Submitting to the will of a corporate entity that doesn’t even have a will will only make it worse.
What Am I Going to Do About it? What About You?
Personally, I’d love to never use Facebook again, but, on the other hand, people are sticking with it as the main communication mode of the day aside from face-to-face conversation. So I’m not about to leave it and so quickly close the door on communicating with those 100 people of mine. However, I am going to spend a lot less time on it.
- As fun as sharing clever thoughts quickly is, I’d rather not take the time to do so. I’m going to cut my status-updating by a large proportion. I’ll be fine with letting someone else take my fifteen minutes of fame. Feeling more important and clever than I really am probably isn’t healthy, anyway.
- I’ve already turned off chat for most people, and I often have it turned off regardless. If they have something important to say to me, they have other options.
- I’m going to try to alter my mode of communication to ways that don’t suck me into talking to people I really have no plans to talk to. Facebook will only be a last resort. If I want to communicate with a friend, I’ll try the phone, email, chatting via Gmail, and texting first. I also hope that this will encourage friends to try to use these old-school protocols as well– if only to communicate with me only.
- The first thing I did when I joined Facebook was disable those annoying emails telling me all that’s happened while I’ve been gone.
- If I do use Facebook in a day, I’ll only try to use it once at a set time. If people need to get a hold of me quickly, I have other methods that go straight to my pocket (email and texting).
- Instead of publishing my life on Facebook to get the praise or curiosity of my friends and my “friends”, I will concentrate more on this blog. More importantly, I will concentrate more on a written journal on my bookshelf where the very deepest desires of the heart can be shared without any pretenses. Of course, I’ve set Facebook to automatically scrape the posts of this blog and publish them on my profile, but at least I’m not wasting my time publishing it there.
- I’m going to uninstall the Facebook app from my iPod Touch.
- I’m going to remove Facebook from the quick access thumbnails on Google Chrome.
- I stopped using applications months ago, and I went into my privacy settings and removed all past applications except one (they can keep on using your information and your friend’s information even if you forgot you even used them! Fancy that). I also disallowed any friend’s applications from using my information.
- I already changed my privacy settings to be more, well, private– not that it’ll do much in the long run.
I’d like to go into a bit of detail about this last one. Diaspora. Some people think it sounds like a disease akin to Malaria, but it’s really quite a wonderful new startup. It’s open source software with the same purpose as Facebook being developed by a small group of college nerds who have nearly $200,000 of community support behind them (I donated $25 and am psyched to receive my free CD, note, stickers, and t-shirt when the first version is released). The main difference aside from being open source is that you own your information, not some corporate entity. Read more about Diaspora here. The downfall is that a person has to run the software on a server 24/7 or have someone else host it. Despite assurances from the nerds that the software will be able to be set up in five minutes by the average computer user, I still have my doubts about it catching on with the general public. Usually only nerds such as myself want to go through the trouble of running an always-on server even if it’s low maintenance, and nobody is about to pay someone to host their profile– private or not. This is why I’m going to be a major proponent of Diaspora and try to get its popularity up and try to get my friends to start using it. In fact, I’m planning to set up a server after my mission (Diaspora will have had some time to develop and spread by then) and offer free hosting on it for all of my friends and any of their friends and so on. The nerds running the project say that there are possibilities that people could eventually run the server on their cell phones without a hitch, meaning that Diaspora would suddenly become much more viable in the social networking market. I’m not promoting Diaspora so much for the privacy concerns (the main reason it’s being designed) nor because I think it would reduce the time people waste online; I just hate Facebook and want to see it sink like AOL has.
Enough about me. Do you feel you waste too much time online? Do you hate Facebook because it’s easy to waste your time with it? Do you hate Facebook for illogical reasons– because you just don’t like its face? Well, what can you do to make a change in your life for the better?
Feel free to use any of my ideas or share your own.