Simplicity Isn’t Enough, Facebook

Let’s imagine you’re the biggest, baddest social network at the dawn of a new decade.  Your size is gargantuan.  Your revenue potential is nuts.  You attitude is cavalier and daring.  You know what’s best for your users, regardless of how much they complain.  And they always complain.  Anytime anything changes, they roar.  

Welcome to the world of Facebook.

Facebook is under pressure from the US Senate about its privacy settings and information sharing with its new Open Graph.  While I’ve seen some social media professionals question if the Senate really needed to get involved in Facebook’s privacy settings, with a huge number of US citizens using Facebook daily, protecting those citizens is an important issue.

So, before Facebook faced anymore pressure from the government, they decided to simplify their privacy controls to placate the US Senators. Unfortunately, their simplification put a band-aid on after they chopped off your arm.  It’s a small step in the right direction, but only a small one.  I’m glad I can easily figure out what I’m sharing with whom and when. Still, there’s a lot more Facebook can do to make users feel secure online when using Facebook.

Here’s what I’d do to make Facebook’s privacy better:

  1. Commit to making new sharing features opt-in. It’s easy to get upset when you sign into a website and find out they added a bunch of a new, public features that you have to turn off one by one.  That’s what Facebook recently did with Open Graph, turning it on for everyone before they even knew what it was.  It could be better by setting it up so even if you personally aren’t opting-in, you’d still get relevant content from your friends who did opt-in.  That way, users can decide for themselves if they like the new features or not by seeing them in action.  The problem with this approach is people may never turn on some features, and then the platform grows static as people keep the exact same feature set.
  2. Clearly Alert Users When the Terms of Service Change. Facebook has a history of changing its terms of service often and without warning.  I understand the need to change the terms quickly, but what I don’t understand is that they don’t alert their users when they do.  Every time iTunes changes its terms of service, I have to click through the new agreement.  It’s annoying, but at least I know every time they are changed, and if I get screwed, it’s my own fault.
  3. Stop Letting App Developers have User Info Permanently.  I still can’t believe that Facebook allows this at all.  I see at least one virus app a week.  Imagine all the data those apps pull from my friends profiles, and then imagine that those computers can then download all the information they want, and keep it as long as they like.  I don’t see why there can’t be a compromise, such as holding the data for three months.  That way, user experience isn’t sacrificed by having to re-download all the same info, but that data is destroyed regularly so users are safe.

SImplicity is one factor to making users feel secure on Facebook, but we also need Facebook to grow up quicker.  Start realizing we want to share with those we connect with, not the entire internet, and stop giving away our information without telling us.

What We Don’t Talk About Online

When I was younger, I struggled with depression.  I was halfway through my first year in college, and felt like I had no friends.  I was still adjusting to a new environment and life, and I spent most of my days either in class, practicing music or studying.  It sucks to feel that alone you want to disappear.

Thankfully, I had a laptop and a high speed internet connection.  I was able to create a user name, anonymous email, and start a blog that got me through it.  No, you can’t see it, it was private then and I deleted it a long time ago.  However, through my new identity, I was able to connect with people dealing with the same things and people who got through them.  That blog was the first step of many to getting myself out of the dark place I was in.

It took a lot of consideration for me to write this post.  I don’t want to talk about such personal topics so openly online using my real identity.  People assume you’ve gone through depression and you’re suicidal for life.  No one wants anything negative, whether in your social life or health, associated with your identity.

That’s what scares me so much about people tying their online life into their real identity so much.  Sure, you can set up anonymous accounts, but it seems like people take you less seriously these days unless they know the name and face behind the screenname.  Without that layer of anonymity, we lose the ability to talk about the deeply painful without alienating the hundreds of connections we have online or having them mutate it into something more horrible.

When we lose our privacy online, we lose a lot of the openness that comes with it. That worries me.  One of the great aspects of the internet is people connecting to other people with similar problems and working through them together.  This type of outreach and community can be very helpful for people who share medical problems or other difficult personal issues that they don’t want to expose openly.

It’s getting harder and harder to obtain those levels of privacy.  Facebook and Google follow you wherever you go.  People want a name behind the avatar.  We may be more authentic, but somewhere in there, we lose the ability to deal with difficult problems authentically. The ad delusion

Have you ever met any of those brainwashed advertising people who believe that regular people like their ads and see them as content and are dying to see more?

Whoever added these arrows to AdSense is one of those people.

Someone involved with this truly believed that enough people want to…

Marco usually writes about technology, but this article is a really good break down of why so many Google and Facebook features are opt-out.