An inch closer to the end of privacy (thanks Facebook!)

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If the end of privacy is so evil, so awful, so unthinkable, then why am I liking the new Pandora so much?

See, in the past three days since Facebook announced major new changes to its social contract with all of us, I’ve been able to study my friends’ personal musical tastes in a way I couldn’t just four days ago.

Here, come on over to the new Pandora on my screen. I click on “Friends’ Music” and now let’s look through what I can see.

I see that Aaron Roe Fulkerson, MindTouch’s Inc founder and CEO, listened to Toad the Wet Sprocket. I bet he didn’t quite realize that I’d be able to see that a week ago.

I see that Adrian Otto, chief of research at the Rackspace Cloud (where I work at), listens to Kenny G. I bet he didn’t quite realize that I’d be able to see that a week ago. Aside: Kenny G, really dude? Heheh.

I see that Alan Cooper, father of Visual Basic, and head of a famous software design studio that bears his name, listens to the Barenaked Ladies. I bet he didn’t quite realize that I’d be able to see that a week ago.

Should I keep going? I have 1,300 friends over on Facebook and a lot of them use Pandora.

To me this is freaking awesome. I have found more music in the past week than I’ve found in the past year.

Oh, yeah, and you can see my own account and see how my musical tastes are changing thanks to this new feature.

But, on the other hand, this new feature has heralded a new age where we move closer to the end of privacy.

While listening to music that now is shared by all my friends I’ve been reading thousands of words about how Facebook screwed its contract with us to keep our stuff private.

Here’s one thread from DeWitt Clinton that talks about why he deleted his Facebook account. Here’s a story on Techcrunch about a bunch of Google employees leaving Facebook. And finally, here’s yet another thread, started by Louis Gray, about those employees leaving Facebook (in the comments there I lay out why Google’s employees made the wrong decision).

If you read those posts — and all the comments in them — you’ll see that there’s a lot of people who are very disappointed with Facebook’s moves pushing us all to be more public.

Personally I have not taken a good stance on this lately in public.

First, what has been my public stance? Privacy is dead.

Why did I take that stance? Because, personally, I’m bored with the discussion about privacy.

Why am I bored?

Because the people who are against having their previously-private stuff shared with the world (whether it was when Google Buzz shared my email connections that I made in Gmail with everyone, or it was when Facebook forced everyone to accept being public and to reconfigure their privacy settings and, in some cases, taking away a few ways to keep their stuff between them and their friends) don’t discuss is my Pandora example above. They don’t admit that there’s a lot of goodness that comes from pushing us to be more public with our lives.

The truth is I — as a user — get more features everytime the industry moves us toward a more public world.

Google did this when they put a cookie on my machine that nearly never expired. I remember employees at Microsoft thinking that that was a horrid move against their privacy (they knew that that meant that their surfing behavior could be studied by Google at a rate that Microsoft’s search engine wouldn’t be able to do because Microsoft had a stricter stance toward protection of privacy). I remember telling those employees to get over it and that soon our entire online lives would be shared and that Google would gain massive adoption because of the features that afforded it.

Google is NOT blameless here. They have moved us a long way toward a world where we have no privacy. Even Google’s CEO’s home address was shared with the world via Google. Today we are sharing that kind of data with each other all the time as we post stuff with geotags applied to it or check in on Foursquare or Gowalla.

But last week was about Facebook’s moves and Facebook pushed us another inch toward the cliff of no more privacy. Is that scary? Well, yes! But is it good too? Well, yes! Here, listen to my Pandora music again and tell me you don’t like being able to study my previously-private life in even more glorious detail.

The truth of the matter is that we are going to live our lives from now on — at least in part — in public and we need a new kind of privacy contract with the companies that use our data.

Tonight we started that discussion where I asked my Twitter followers what the last bastion of privacy is?

We ended up that the last bastion of privacy is control. I recorded an audio CinchCast to talk about that. Control of the ability to tell our life’s story.

In that audio I told you that we are no longer in control of how our life’s story gets shared with others. For some, like me, we’ve crossed over to where we accept that loss of control. Others still hold onto the — in my view, mistaken — belief that they can control what others learn about them.

That is privacy: control of our human story. Last week Facebook took something we thought we had control of and gave it away. That pisses off a lot of people, but on the other hand, I gotta say I am loving my new Pandora music that that change brought to me.

And thus we have moved an inch closer to the end of privacy whether you like it or not.

So, now what?

1. We need new skills to deal with our new lack of privacy. How do we make sure Facebook doesn’t share what we don’t want shared? There’s lots of discussion on that around the web but we need more.
2. We need a more nuanced discussion about privacy. It’s not just about “never take my private stuff and make it public.” If it were, we wouldn’t have gotten the new Pandora features we just got last week.
3. We need more control over our data so that we can easily figure out what is going where. With Facebook it’s hard to figure that out now (I solved that by just making everything I do public, but others don’t want to live the same way I do).
4. What else? Add your thoughts to the conversation and what privacy means to you.

Talk to you later, I’m off to meet Thomas Hawk where we’ll walk around a car show in Half Moon Bay — in public — and take pictures. You’re welcome to join us. Bring your stash of great music. Oh, yeah, bring your iPhones! :-)