As I spotted on the Facebook mini-feed last night, the rising popularity of Facebook gives you a new exciting way to split up, better even than the e-mail or the text message – just change your status! This conveniently tells both your now ex-lover, and all your friends of the change in one easy action…
Not anymore… Facebook have announced that they are adding a public search facility which in a month will be linked into the main Google search allowing anybody to obtain the name and profile picture of any Facebook member. The search will also provide links to Facebook functionality to allow the retrieved Facebook users to be contacted directly.
True they will only be revealing a name and a picture, but it is still a lot less private than before. You can also restrict search access through your profile settings too, but it’s very much an opt out rather than an opt in.
The growing phenomenon of Facebook is definitely starting to cause concern – Om Malik is quoted in the BBC article highlighting that the move turns Facebook into a de-facto phone book of the internet – he also highlights the risk of publishing too much information on your profile when for example people often use their birthday as a significant bit of information for their banks.
There are also growing issues with regards to the fact that the site was previously aimed at students. This is a definite issue with schools, for example at Beth’s school all of the staff with Facebook accounts were called to a special meeting on Monday to in particular highlight the potential issues with the information staff could put on their profiles, and more importantly how to deal with friend requests from students. The same issues will obviously relate to other people who work with young people, for example youth leaders in Churches. How much information are you putting in – and who else is being linked together? Do you really want what you friends are writing on your ‘wall’ to be visibly by those you work with in a professional capacity?
To some extent we’ve had similar issues with this site, as have other teachers with blogs – we try to ensure that we don’t mention Beth’s school by name, or link to it directly (much the same as I do with my employer), and this site is also explicitly blocked on the school servers. Essentially schools all over the world are going through the same issue, but on a much larger scale. After her experience before Beth has said that she is absolutely not going to get a Facebook account -and as I’ve mentioned before, mine is as slim as it possibly can be.
Update: The Scobleizer article that I linked to in the comments section, and the original article that Scoble was answering are well worth a read too. In particular with the original article it is worth considering the question as to what you reveal to whom by joining a city network, and also taking a look at the range of discussion in the comments. There is also some good discussion about perceived versus actual security, particularly with regards to MySpace and Facebook.
The Facebook bandwagon is well and truly rolling – Scoble is one of many big names hyping up the platform, and even offering incentives to sign up. However he like others is highlighting how much of your data the Facebook platform can potentially suck in – especially important bearing in mind the clauses in their policies I highlighted a couple of weeks ago… Quite what is the status of your blog postings or your pictures from Flickr once Facebook sucks them in?
To get some idea of the amount of stuff you can bring in, check out this video by Matt Dickman:
Interesting comments to note is that Facebook makes relatively little from click through advertising on the site, as their policies imply, the real value to them is having all of this kind of information together, the profiling that they can do when you join the dots by pulling in your blog, your pictures, your twitter feed and so on…
Over the past few months it seems like everybody has been getting accounts on Facebook, indeed BBC News recently reported that membership has grown by more than 500%.
As with MySpace, I’d generally resisted signing up for an account, however the issue with Facebook is that only members can see information, so when groups I am involved in decide to use Facebook the only way people can access information is to sign up to Facebook – a classic example of the walled garden idea that AOL tried and failed with years ago. Unfortunately, the only way to access that stuff is to step into the walled garden, and hand your information to Facebook.
I’ve only put the absolute minimum of information in, and Beth hasn’t signed up at all. Needless to say, that’s produced some grumbling from some quarters, but I don’t really see the point in duplicating in Facebook a whole load of information that is elsewhere. Then I found out some more that made me really rather glad that I hadn’t provided anything else, and that Beth wasn’t on at all…
Jen was having a similar issue as me, with people she knew joining the networks and moving their online presence within the walled gardens. Then she discovered something altogether more worrying about Facebook policy.
By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.
Basically, anything I might upload is automatically licensed to Facebook to do anything with for any purpose, and they can sub-license it to anybody else too. The next sentence states that you can remove your content and that revokes the license, but that they then say that your user content will remain in their archives.
Facebook may use information in your profile without identifying you as an individual to third parties. We do this for purposes such as aggregating how many people in a network like a band or movie and personalizing advertisements and promotions so that we can provide you Facebook. We believe this benefits you. You can know more about the world around you and, where there are advertisements, they’re more likely to be interesting to you. For example, if you put a favorite movie in your profile, we might serve you an advertisement highlighting a screening of a similar one in your town. But we don’t tell the movie company who you are.
However the next paragraph is somewhat more worrying:
We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services, Facebook Platform developers and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile.
Effectively they are saying that over and above what you give them, they will collect other information about you from outside Facebook including elsewhere on the internet, in newspapers and anywhere else.
Back in December 2005, two MIT students produced a paper looking at Facebook privacy – certainly worth a read in terms of the privacy issues, but also in relation to the amounts of personally identifiable information that some people reveal on the site. Just consider for a moment what a goldmine of a one-stop-shop for personal information Facebook could be…
Jen then posted a video which she had been sent. As she says, it is maybe a bit alarmist in places, but it does highlight the basic issues well…
On the basis of that video, Jen decided to remove her account – but it seems that Facebook is like the Hotel California in that you can â€œcheck out any time you like, but you can never leave.â€? The closest you can get is to deactivate the account, but if you log back in, it will come back to life again. Thankfully I’ve not given them much.
So hopefully that explains why I haven’t got much in my Facebook profile, and why there won’t be. It also goes to highlight once again how careful you have to be with the information you give out about yourself on the internet.