Get over the Facebook privacy drama

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Today Daily Finance has published an article by me about the current state of the Facebook privacy drama. Simply put, it’s completely overblown.

I don’t like the fact that Facebook seems to make huge changes just when I’ve finally figured out the last batch of changes. But this is the internet, people. Things move fast, and so Facebook has to make frequent changes to keep developing their business model.

And make no mistake – – Facebook is a business. As much as you might like to think it’s just a clever way to interact with your friends, the reality is that Facebook is a business that needs to generate revenue one way or another. Users don’t seem willing to pay for access to Facebook, so the company must look to advertisers and other partners to bring in money.

The only way to make the network attractive to those with the money is by opening things up.That means Facebook is going to encourage (and in some cases require) that certain parts of your profile be public.  After all, what good is user data if those who would pay to get access to it can’t actually access anything?

The biggest complaint about the recent changes to Facebook’s privacy options is that there are too many of them.  The New York Times calls the privacy options “bewildering.” At Daily Finance, my colleage Sam Gustin is also annoyed with the number of privacy choices on Facebook.

But is it really all that bad to have lots of options when it comes to the many pieces of data you can add to your profile? I don’t think so. It’s nice that you can hide certain items while making others public. And I guarantee you that if Facebook now had only a few privacy choices that applied to large chunks of data, critics would be saying we don’t have enough control.

Truthfully, the Facebook privacy settings are not the least bit confusing for anyone who can be bothered to take 10 minutes to look at them and use Facebook’s “help” function .  I think Sam is just too lazy to learn about the privacy settings. And really… is it too much to ask that if you want to keep things private, you spend 10 or 20 minutes a few times a year learning about the options and tweaking your profile?

I became motivated to write about this when my writing team at Daily Finance (which includes Sam) had a discussion about the “confusing” Facebook privacy settings via our team email list. To help defend his position that Facebook’s privacy is awful, he cited Danah Boyd as a “sophisticated thinker” on his side of this argument.

I’ve never heard of her before, but okay. Sam says she’s sophisticated, so let’s go with it.  Danah was shocked that Facebook didn’t contact her to help them after she did a keynote at SXSW. Really? That sets the stage for the rant, doesn’t it? Facebook didn’t bow down to Danah’s obvious superiority in the area of social media privacy, and now they shall pay.

She says lots and lots of people are scared of these privacy issues on Facebook. I think that most of these scared people are simply too lazy to look at the privacy settings on Facebook, and are instead listening to people like Danah say they ought to be worried, and now they’re worried. Notice a theme here? Lazy Facebook users?

Danah’s premise throughout most of the article is reasonable, but then she holds up a teenager using Facebook as an example of what’s so wrong with Facebook’s privacy settings. This poor teenager didn’t know that setting photos to be viewable by “Friends of Friends” meant that friends of friends could actually see them.

Really? This is your shocking example of how awful Facebook is? That a user didn’t have basic common sense? Sure, she’s a teenager. But come on. By age sixteen I think basic reading comprehension skills have been learned, and “friends of friends” is not a terribly complicated phrase to interpret. This is by far not a “sophisticated” argument against Facebook.

She goes on to complain about the fact that people don’t think the word “everyone” really means everyone. And she complains that Zuckerberg and Facebook team think they know what everyone wants. This is not a “sophisticated” argument either.

Facebook critics are also sounding off that the “privacy” on Facebook isn’t really privacy at all, and the company is just looking for ways to exploit users. This argument fails if you again step back and look at Facebook as a business. The company must bring in revenue if it wants to survive, and it’s not “exploiting” users so much as finding ways to make the network enticing to those willing to pay for access.

What Facebook absolutely must do, however, is be transparent. They must be clear about the privacy controls and make sure users know (if they bother to look) what is private and what is not.

And for the users of Facebook – – you must take responsibility for your own data, because you’re the only one who can control it. If you don’t want things to become public, don’t post them on the internet. That’s really the only privacy control you may need.

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