How Facebook is killing privacy

I have recently been called crazy (alright, not just recently) for my opinions of things found online.  However, recent changes in the way Facebook wants to use my private data (or what I thought was private) have me thinking that perhaps their site just isn’t for me anymore.  And for these thoughts I was labeled nuts, ridiculous and even a heretic, as I am also helping to create such grand systems of online data sharing.

During their f8 conference in April 2010, Facebook introduced a platform called the Open Graph.  On its face, it seems to do what users want: go anywhere on the web and see information about what their Facebook friends think and let them report their own activities back to Facebook.  Unfortunately, as a “feature” of this new roll-out comes the serious drawback: you are now watched, tracked and exposed everywhere on the web that Facebook has a deal.  What this means is that any data in your Facebook world is now available to any web site that uses the new Open Graph API.  Worse, these sites need only ask for permission once and they can reach in and grab all the data they want and keep it forever.

If all of this weren’t enough, some extra bits of bad behavior from Facebook are now becoming visible.  To “assist” in the social web expansion Facebook wants, they are now automatically opting-in every user’s private profile data to share with the web.  No longer are your favorite books, music, movies or your home town, education and events just between you and your authorized friends.  Nope, now Facebook is pretty much telling you “share it all or else you’ll have no profile page.” This is bad news, indeed.

So far, Facebook hasn’t caved on any of this.  Things have raised enough eyebrows that the US Senate has started asking Facebook to back down. It is likely, however, that Facebook will do nothing about all the controversy, chalk it all up to people not understanding how the web works, then plowing ahead with their own plans to completely own your identity and personal data online.  If you need a hard reason to believe that this will all end badly, look no further than the young Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself who tells the press “he doesn’t believe in privacy” online.  If that doesn’t get people to wake up I’m not sure what will.

I think it is time to own up to the generational gap: I believe that there must be the ability for me to control my personal information online.  I don’t think that a company should have unfettered access to all of my personal data, my friends and then be able to go off and give it to anyone, anywhere for as long as they like without letting me decide about it.  I feel there will always be a public forum on which to share certain parts of my life, but it should be on my terms and with limits that I set.  Yes, the future may be all about “the personalized web” and how great that will make discovering new things… but if it comes at the cost of all of my online privacy I think I’ll stick to hanging out with the uncool kids and their old-school, legacy information and decision-making processes.

UPDATE: after the original post went up the EFF put out this helpful summary of how bad the new Open Graph API is to your “private data.”  In short, if you want to have data shared between just you and friends, you can no longer be on Facebook.  Read Six Things You Need to Know About Facebook Connections for more details.