Facebook and Privacy (why I’m staying)

May 21st, 2010 Comments

In the last week, several of my friends have deleted their Facebook accounts. It turns out, this isn’t as easy as one might imagine. Many more have discussed the concerns, and there have been a number of blog posts criticizing Facebook in general, and CEO Zuckerburg in particular for making unilateral changes in the privacy terms of service.

As one who consumes information, I also like to share what I’ve learned.  Facebook is primary conduit for the information I find and share.  Twitter, Friendfeed, and other sources funnel information to me also.  But unlike a few years ago, I rarely have to go looking for news, the news finds me through my Social Graph. 

I have been involved in online social networking since Facebook since the early 90s, on my first PC, through Compuserve.  Of course we didn’t call it social networking back then, but that’s what it was.  As the Internet became more prominent, companies like Prodigy, Compuserve, and AOL ceased to hold dominance in that arena – but in the last several years, with tools like Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, and blogs, social media is now very mainstream.  In fact, sites that one would never suspect to be social, are incorporating social strategies.

The beauty, for an introvert like me, is that online social networking allows me the courage to be the person I’ve always wanted to be. In the real world, I am reserved, quiet, and often introverted.  My best time for interaction is in the evening – when most people are sleeping.  But online media allows me to interact on my schedule, and, more importantly, I have the skills to be proficient here – where I don’t in the real world “meat space.

For me anyway, it’s pretty safe to say that online dialog has replaced the telephone.

I’ve been able to reconnect with people around the globe with who I share interests and values. In fact, I’ve made new friends that I hope one day to meet in real life.  Sure, there are people from my past, who are on my “friends” list that I never interact with.  We initially did some catching up, but at some point realized that we have no more connection than we did “back in the day.”  There are others, who are friends of friends, and either through my blog, a desire to have more friends, or maybe it was something I said, have “friended” me.  Some of us connect, some of us don’t – kind of like real life.

This Time article (How Facebook Is Redefining Privacy) is one of the best overviews of the issues involved.

Yet the really fun thing is connecting/reconnecting with people who were friends briefly, but I never really got to know in real life. Currently, some of these folks are turning into pretty good friends.  There are Wayne & Nicole in Indiana, Bob in Riverside, Bill in Tennessee, Tia in the UK, Rich in Sacramento, KC in Newfoundland, Mike in Beaverton, Bram in SW Portland, and Kathleen & Steven in NE Portland – and many, many more (sorry if I forgot to mention you here).  Then there are a host of people with whom I have a more casual relationship, regular contact, and many shared interests.

For me anyway, it’s pretty safe to say that online dialog has replaced the telephone.  It is also a precursor to real-life encounters.  As we maintain online contact about the activities of our lives, it frees us up to have more in-depth conversations when we meet-up in person, or on the phone.  For my close, and often longterm, friends who are not active participants online, I often feel as if those friendships are slipping into oblivion.  Like moving to another part of the city, changing jobs or schools, or moving out of state, proximity, or the lack thereof, affects intimacy.  Many of us keep close proximity online, others don’t.  That’s just the way it is sometimes.

For me anyway, it’s pretty safe to say that online dialog has replaced the telephone.

My first year at college, I experienced something I’d never had before. I was in a clique.  We weren’t necessarily a cool, or popular clique – but for the first time in my life, I had people to “hang out” with.  It was really fun.  Our getting together wasn’t formal, it just happened.  We showed up in the cafeteria around the same time, sat together at school assemblies, and just seemed to naturally find each other.  Sadly, when we left school, most of those friendships drifted into oblivion.

Online friendships are similar.  My online friends are those with whom I share interests and values.  We are together largely due to proximity; and if anything changed either of these connecting points, most likely those friendships would slip into obscurity.  Friendship connections are fragile enough, and when you add the complexities of global communication, that makes it all the more intriguing, and fragile.

For instance, I first met Jamaica Bob about 15 years ago.  He was a struggling school teacher and a gifted musician.  Although we worked together on the same team, and we were cordial, we didn’t really click.  I probably saw Bob at least two or three times a week, and we worked closely together, but we were both a couple of “young turks,” who were trying to save the world – or at least make a big mess trying.  Recently, as we’ve connected through Facebook and Twitter, we’ve discovered that we actually like each other, share a lot of values, and I can tell that he has Daddytude!

Various articles have been written about Facebook’s continual, and often intrusive changes to their privacy policy and terms of service.  Much has been written on the company’s vision to create a more transparent and authentic world through the use of online social media.  If you were to ask me, I’d tell you that I agree with this vision.  The problem exists because of the monopolistic nature of Facebook  400+ million members (and counting), and the confusing nature of setting up those privacy controls.  Several articles have been written by people railing against, or leaving Facebook.

It’s a control issue.  I’m pretty tech savvy and I’ve been following the development of this process for a few years, but for the average Facebook user, this is a pretty confusing issue.  First, I don’t put anything online that would hurt me if it went public, and I create privacy groups, and I only share certain information with certain groups.  But I am amazed at the number of people who allow their home address, date of birth, and children’s names to be readily available online.

But there are two reasons I won’t leave Facebook, and I will continue to be a part of Twitter, Friendfeed, and other communities:

  • One, this is where the people are.  If one wants to impact the world, they are going to have to participate in social media.  Putting one’s head in the sand, and pretending this is just a fad, or a kids game, will leave them floundering into 20th Century obscurity, while the rest of the world marches forward into the future.  Good, or bad, it really doesn’t matter, what is important is to be a part of the conversation.
  • Two, my kids.  Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg, and as my kids accelerate into adolescence, they will grow up in an increasingly technological, connected, and global universe.  It is important for me, their Dad, to stay informed of the landscape.  Just as I wouldn’t let them play in the road, or explore the forest alone, I don’t want them to have to figure out tomorrow’s online world alone.  As a father, it is my role to guide, educate, lead, and protect.  I will not abdicate that role in this arena.  But it requires effort and vigilance on my part!

As a Dad, a leader, an innovator, and an entrepreneur, and someone whom I don’t yet know who I’ll become, I choose to remain a part of the conversation – no matter where it takes place.

Indeed, Facebook is not free.  In exchange for your information, they let you connect through their servers.  There is no free lunch.  If you don’t have control over your data, or if you don’t care, this is probably a non-issue to you.  If you feel like control is being wrested from your grasp, then you need to get up to speed, or leave.  Personally, I’m not afraid.  But some of you should be.

But, note to the gurus at Facebook, this is a tenuous agreement you have with us.  I/we, can bail at anytime.  Don’t push us.

What about you?  Why are you leaving Facebook, or not?

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