As a pretty heavy Twitter user, it may seem strange that I quit Facebook on account of privacy concerns. But two posts—one from ReadWriteWeb and another from the Electronic Frontier Foundation—together do a pretty good job of summing up my concerns. The first describes a Facebook quiz developed by the American Civil Liberties Union designed to show Facebook users exactly what kinds of information about themselves and their friends they’re sharing when they add applications to their profiles. The answer: basically everything. The second describes the latest set of changes Facebook has made it its labyrinthine privacy policies. Facebook implements these changes every couple of months by means of simple click-through agreements, and, as in this case, they’re almost always designed to convince users to allow increased public and commercial access to their personal data and that of their friends.
Everything on Twitter is right out there in the open. But that’s what I signed up for. Facebook, on the other hand, promises its users privacy, but (best case) does very little to protect it and (worst case) even seems ready to subvert it.
I completely agree and I had signed off of Facebook for many of these same reasons. Then my son turned 13. We’d been holding him off of Facebook for more than a year, but it is such a central feature of early teen life that to continue to do so would be to consign him to one of the circles of hell. So I signed back on so that his Facebook friends include his (rats) father.
My views on the matter are probably predictable, since I rarely consider myself a privacy advocate. But just think how impoverished our historical knowledge would be if the only census data that historians had access to came from those individuals who provided informed consent for the eventual release of their answers to census questions.
True, but the imperatives and constraints of government and those of private corporations are very different. The U.S. Census isn’t looking to sell its data, at least not yet.