Monday, May 31, 2010

Quitting Facebook?

There's something about mainstream journalists writing covering technology that, more than a decade after the Internet has been part of the cultural mainstream, still produces sheer idiocy. Consider this article from the Canadian Press that opens with the line: "Joseph Dee is preparing to hit the delete key on his Facebook account." For anyone who knows anything about computers, it's patently obvious that you click a delete button. Of course, it's a safe bet that the thoroughly ignorant but somewhat cute phrase was added by some middle-aged editor still befuddled by this information superhighway of chat lines and hyperlinks.

As for the phenomenon itself, quitting Facebook, the numbers are surprisingly insignificant. The figure of 24,000 quitters out of nearly 500 million users is the equivalent of one apartment block or one train somewhere on China's eastern seaboard, or one large parking lot somewhere in North America.

For the most part, Facebook's creepy desire for exhibitionism, clumsily disguised as "enhanced" privacy controls, can be minimized by not inputting information. Unless you're advertising your business, why write down the place you work, your cell phone number and a variety of other information. There are many people who have still left about half of their profiles visible to about 500 million people, including wall posts, pictures and cell phone numbers. I once saw someone posted a summarized introduction that consisted of her cell phone number and an appeal to "text me", visible to all users.

Much of the so-called absence of privacy online becomes comical if compared to real life. Can you imagine if someone had knew your name, what you looked like and your credit card number? If you've ever bought something with a credit card, you're in this position, and have likely been recorded by security cameras anyway. If you've ever ordered a pizza and paid with credit card at the door, then the pizza place has all that information, plus your address.

We tend to presume that these retail businesses will never do anything bad with all that information, but we assume the worst about online companies. Rather, we should assume the worst about ourselves, who upload drunken pictures, cell phone numbers and semi-coherent boasts about drug usage and then leave it accessible to anyone with a Facebook account (fully 7% of the world). Armed with the knowledge that I went to the University of Toronto, enjoy listening to Bob Dylan and am located in Seoul, Facebook can target advertising to me. If they really wanted, I guess they could make all my communications with various hikers, runners and distant friends seeking to keep in touch public. That would be bad, just like it would be bad if your Internet provider decided to make your history public, but is it realistically going to happen?


Jennifer said...

This is a great post. I agree completely.

What I don't like about Facebook is not the privacy stuff (which I agree is totally within the user's control) but the spam that gets sent out by my "friends" clicking on inane groups and pages. If there was a way to block all that, I'd do it, but it seems there isn't.

Seadog said...

(Unrelated but) fun technology fact: the E-man can now disable the RR firewall to visit Lavalife. Seniors can figure out computers if the motivation is great enough - like monkeys reaching for distant fruit with sticks.

Adeel said...

That is so disturbing, but it hints at another demographic trend that is maybe salient: the number of black females over 5'10 who buy running shoes is drying up for whatever reason.

Shan said...

Hmm, I've thought the same thing before. Clearly you've violated the privacy of my thoughts with your psychic blog. That's it! I'm quitting Adeelbook!