How it became Facebook’s fault
In recent months, and especially the last week, there has been a noticeable shift in public sentiment against Facebook.
The controversy surrounding the company’s decision to change its privacy settings have been further amplified by the murder of 18-year-old Nona Belomesoff. As I write a Pakistani court has banned Facebook in the entire country over a page encouraging users to post caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
But since when did all this become Facebook’s fault? Why do we put such an onus on a corporation to act so responsibly with our details rather than questioning our acquiescence to handing over that information in the first place? Why is it we seem to be laying a portion of blame on Facebook for awful human behaviour rather than questioning where it grew from in the first place?
Facebook is a private corporation that is run for a profit. The currency that it deals in, and what makes it valuable, is that fact that it has collected the private details of some half a billion people.
This makes it an ideal vehicle for internet advertising, and as far as Facebook is concerned the more information it has and the more people it can share it with the better.
Recently in the United States 15 consumer advocacy groups recently filed a letter of complaint to the Federal Trades Commission over the decision by Facebook to allow third parties more access to user information, and automatically linking users to community pages.
“Facebook now discloses personal information to the public that Facebook users previously restricted. Facebook now discloses personal information to third parties that Facebook users previously did not make available,” part of the complaint read.
But really the complaint could read: “Facebook now discloses personal information to the public and third parties that Facebook previously allowed users to restrict.”
The point is that once you hand it over, it’s theirs to use. Yes they’ve changed the goal posts on us, but they were always going to push it as far as they could.
The advocacy groups claim that they could have a case for deceptive trade practices, and may well, but what are people going to do? Demand their money back from a free website? Sue Facebook for earnings made off extra user information being made available? It all gets pretty tricky from here. At the moment in the US Facebook face the prospect of setting up a $6 million “privacy organisation” as part of a settlement in a class action for breach of privacy, but it’s unclear who should run it and what compensation it would actually provide to those whose privacy has been breached.
Naturally we have a sense of ownership over our private data, no matter how mundane, but we surrender that ownership when we hand it over to a company who make a profit from trading in it.
It strikes me as pretty strange that we live in a country that is so suspicious of giving over information to governments that we don’t possess identification cards, but has accepted handing over details to social networking sites like Facebook so readily.
As someone who has sat in a room subject to one of Facebook’s lectures at their Silicon Valley headquarters it’s also safe to say that they’ve bought a lot of this on themselves.
The company tries to sell itself as the shiny happy types bringing the world together, building “communities” and having a hand in the Iranian uprising (at one point pulling out a slide to prove it was more influential than Twitter in that instance), but then seizes up in a PR panic the minute it’s caught up in something awful like the tribute page controversy or privacy concerns.
For the record Facebook haven’t responded to a request to a comment for The Punch for this piece.
In instances like this the line becomes something to the effect of “we’re just a forum, we can’t control what bad people do with the forum.” Which might be true to an extent, but how can you then claim the good intentions and outcomes of Facebook are the ingenious work of an altruistic company? After all, they are just a forum.
But that being said, Facebook seems to have become the touchstone for more general community fears about social media and the evil that can lurk on the internet.
Taking the awful case of Nona Belomesoff as an example, being reported worldwide as a “Facebook Murder”, despite the fact the two are thought to have initially met on the dating site Oasis Active.
Of course there is something you can do if you’re not comfortable with what Facebook has on you, that’s get off it.
As Colgo wrote the other day, the term “delete Facebook account” was five times higher last week, with a world QuitFacebookDay organised for May 31st.
But given it has at the time of writing this it has only 5561 committed quitters it obviously has some catching up to do.
In the meantime they’ll continue to watch millions of people, their personal details and the cash flow in, but don’t blame them, nobody poked you into it.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…