Thursday, 27 May 2010

So, Facebook's Turn

After my rant about Google last week, I think it's only fair to have a go at Facebook. The founder of FB, Mark Zuckerberg, has been in the news this week after being forced by public outcry to roll back the privacy settings for FB users. Apparently a new, simpler to use system is being released to users over the next few weeks (why not all at once? I have no idea).

Anyway, I thought I'd check my account to see whether I have the new system yet. I don't think I do. What I've got is a series of pages to wade through. For each thing there's a dropdown list of options of who you want to see your stuff (usually 'Everybody', 'Friends Of Friends', 'Friends Only', and 'Customise'). Customise is usually the one you want, and that contains the 'Only Me' option. The whole process of going through every page and changing what I wanted to took about half an hour. Not exactly user-friendly. There were a few nasty surprises in there where FB had opted me into new features ("Instant Personalisation Pilot Program") without asking or telling me. There's more info here, and I especially like the comment from Sean.

I think the basic idea of FB is a good one. Many more people use it than have blogs, and it is a way of keeping in touch with people without necessarily interacting with them. But you may keep the games, the gifts, the fortune cookies and other malarkey. What does worry me is that FB now has data on 500 million people. I'm pretty careful about what personal info I put online, but others are much less so. And it seems that once you've given FB your phone number, address, blood type, whatever, even if you subsequently choose to hide it, that data is not deleted. And apparently it's almost impossible to get FB to delete your record even if you choose to leave.

This mountain of data is in the hands of some kids in California, who apparently have no understanding of privacy. If that doesn't send a chill down your spine, then it should.

Mind you, Google has a stack more of my stuff, including several thousand emails that they are happy to analyze to find out what kind of stuff they might be able to sell me, and that scares me too.

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