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

Facebook LogoPandora logo

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! :-)


  1. This is a great article that is really standing at the heart of the privacy debate. I feel that we arent giving up privacy merely trading for better services. There are some problems with this paradigm that i think needs more discussion.
    How and when people can judge others? the need for privacy stems of from the fact people cannot separate between facts and disregard some. for example if i were to see drunken pictures of my GP, would i loose respect for him in some way, yes. but why he cant he go out on the town like everyone else. its only because until this point that i have viewed him in a professional light and cannot integrate the new information without lowering my opinion of him.
    can we as a people begin to selectively look at people, judge them only for part of their actions. Or even worse can we look past ones indescritions to see the new person before us.
    I dont know that this is possible but it is one of the dangers of a less private society

  2. You know what’s worse than being naked on Pandora? It is not being able to access Pandora because the music labels run the US government and block everyone else from listening in. Hell, if I can listen to sundry ‘radio’ stations on iTunes from anywhere, why not Pandora?

  3. This makes me glad that I’ve never participated in Facebook, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, or any of the other so called social media (read big brother) sites. Never have, never will.

    By the way, Scob, I enjoy your articles.

  4. I totally disagree with the “if you don’t want it public than don’t put it on the web” argument.

    To me that means that an individual must forfeit his right to privacy in order to socialize with his friends.
    It’s like certain parties are making a claim to the Internet. They’re saying this is our land, our rules. Go ahead and talk to your friends but no secrets, no whispering. That’s the old “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about” argument.

    It opens a door for a private social network to get some traction. A private facebook would be great.

  5. Nice analysis, and I'd add two simple truths that you touch upon. First, we bitch about privacy loss, but our behavior shows that we don't care. We'll trade all of the data of our grocery purchases to save a nickel. Second, we're all FAR too concerned of what others think about us. I like the adage, “what you say about me is none of my business,” which is especially important for those in the public light. A healthy sense of “whatever” if someone finds you on a tabloid, bashes you on a blog, or (worse yet) finds out you like Kenny G.

  6. I love that you say “(worse yet) finds out you like Kenny G.” Tell me about THAT! Adrian, how could you let my image of you down so badly? Heheh.

    Yeah, you nailed another part of why I'm bored with the privacy argument. People love to argue about it but they rarely change their behavior when they are getting something in return for giving up their privacy.

  7. My opinion, not so much the end of privacy that ended with internet. For now I trust Google with very personal informaiton and they have not betrayed that trust…yet. I dont and havent trusted facebook with that kinda of personal data:

    1. Because I haven't seen a benefit to doing so
    2. Because they have small moves toward not being trust worthy with it (think how do you boil a frog)

    In the end users will have to think before you share and be mindful of the goings on in the places you do. As long as we stay in control and the app stays true to its promise this will work out fine.

    However the first time a facebook or someother app of the same notoriety betray's that trust it will be the end for them all we'll never trust them again and you will get no data from us.

  8. Interesting analysis. I don't understand the stance of people who say things like, “I won't use Foursquare because I don't want people to know where I am all the time.” Broadcasting is elective and you can still manage to share what you're willing to make public.

    To me, the thing to watch is that much of FB's new functionality rolled across platforms as an opt-out rather than an opt-in. While I look forward to discovering new bands and tweaking my friends for some of their musical choices (and can't wait until this hits Netflix for much the same reason), it was a touch unsettling when I checked out Pandora the first time to be greeted with a, “Hi, Alan.” Little too Minority Report for me.

  9. Scoble, privacy is not dead. What's dead is the assumption “people want/need privacy by default”. What is being billed as being social right now is about building your own personal identity on the web and capitalizing on that, and you can't build a personal identity while being private. Nothing restricts people from being as private as they want to, and I have many RL friends who's Facebook presence is very guarded – Facebook has excellent even if complex for Joe Shmoe privacy settings to manage what is shared and whatnot – but it is quickly made obvious that a viable online presence cannot be built by being private. This has nothing to do with losing privacy. It has to do with privacy being no longer fashionable (and profitable).

  10. I just 'Liked' that response.

    Years ago when there were a few hundred videobloggers in the videoblogging group, we wanted to have a way to share with each other that we 'liked' a video. We didn't want to clutter up the email list with emails. We wanted to be a ble to share with friends, which videos we liked. We never figured out a way to implement this.

    Now facebook has.

    I think the like button is a great idea to show friends what you like.

    What is problematic for us early adopters is who we've designated as friends. When lots of these sites first arrived, we'd friend everyone.

    Now what do we do?

  11. Steve: on Facebook I went through and deleted 4,000 people who I couldn't tell myself a story about. IE, I couldn't remember ever having met them. I ended up with 1,300 people and that's working very well for me. Personally, though, I like Twitter better where I have 18,000 people I listen to.

  12. Apostolov, agreed it privacy is in the hands of the user. But if your an app that makes those priacy settings open by default and then makes it hard for the user to understand what they are doing then you will be the example someone will use in a case for that social media is betraying our trust.

    It won't be this app is betraying our trust… it will be much broader than that.

  13. Robert,

    Firstly enough with Pandora as a metaphor already! Sharing musical tastes is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn't go to the concerns people have both about these changes and about Facebook's prior history (which to me forever starts with Zuckerberg's putting up pairs of stolen (ok, no conviction so 'appropriated') pics of young girls and asking 'the pubic' to decide which is the uglier). Can I call him a turd here?

    But my point: People are overwhelmed by Facebook's privacy options (not helped at all when Facebook resets them in a blink) which are onerous and egregious (back in a sec from checking dictionary).

    I therefore think the sooner the regulators catch up with social media and privacy the better (and I loathe regulation)

    In Facebook's case, it's proven that we need to 'keep the bastards honest'.

  14. I didn't realize that Hot or Not was started by Zuckerberg. Actually it wasn't. It was started by James Hong and Jim Young.

    But I agree with you about privacy being too hard to figure out.

    This is why I killed my own privacy. I just set everything to public and assume everything I do will be public. Makes life so much easier!

  15. Its really this notion of control over our experiences. But, as I've learned over the years, this is also control over how we let others see us. Many people are foolishly pissed because they are loosing control of the story they portray to others.

    I remember many years ago, while on one of the countless cross-country trips that my father decided to take us on. He was always asking questions, the trips were always a learning experience. Probably somewhere in between Manitoba and Alberta he asked me “Kevin, can you name all the 10 provinces?”, I hesitated and spit out maybe 4 or five of them. The truth is, I knew all the names of the provinces then. I could have said them backwards if I wanted too. What I did not want, was to be embarrassed by knowing these things, or to come across as a “smarty pants”. Funny the things kids do, right?

    This is the story of control though, we not only want to control that story, but we want to control how we are portrayed in the story. We (or many of us) want to know its “cool” before we put it out there. Many others want to portray a kind of uniqueness and may worry that its not looking like that.

    It takes quite a lot of courage to let others take control – and even more so – to let others control the theme of your story.

    That's my 2c (usd), or 2c (cdn)

  16. A lot of this also depends on who the software is designed. One little tweak in a feature can make a huge difference in social behaviors. How opt-ins and opt-outs are designed (which one is the default) has a lot to do with the software effects on Privacy.

    Imagine if Facebook had a Hate button – how would that alter the entire ecosystem of what Facebook's doing? Same matter with privacy features.

    Still, we do need a more intelligent discussion about Privacy – a new attitude that faces our assumptions and fears, while not simply caving in to what designers build. I suspect it's going to be a long slog.

    One other point: the vanishing of traditional Privacy: what effects will that have on the greater culture and economy? Huge – but can we even imagine it beyond simple things like music sharing?

  17. Privacy is at risk and it's not just because of Google, FaceBook, Twitter or the rest of social media. It could be your employer (assuming you've ever had one) that is taking a risk. Any data that is being recorder online can be compromised. Don't think that the government can protect you, because they can't even protect themselves.

    I have to agree with you on this one Robert. I'm not sure if this is a first or not, but at least on “public record” it is.

  18. Secondly, OK, so let's talk about something other than Pandora. Now I can see which Levi's Jeans you liked. Or which NHL Hockey Star you like. Both bring me benefits. Maybe I like how you look in your jeans and want the same kind. Or, maybe I know you are a Sharks' fan and want to learn more about what players you like.

    And what else might you have put into Facebook previously that now I can see?

    Your drunken college photos. Oh, please. You missed the photo of my last year wearing a pink wig drunk at a geek party in London, didn't you? (It was published in Techcrunch and I survived).

    Your naked photos? I have three on the Internet. You can search for them if you really want.

    Your photos of you doing illicit substances? Boring! Even President Obama did that.

    How about photos of your ex wife? Mine are there.

    Your girlfriends? Check.

    What you had for dinner last night? Check again.

    So, what is it about Facebook's privacy that you want to keep between you and your friends so badly? And why in hell's name did you post it on the Internet anyway?

  19. Good references to Steve Jobs and Tiger Woods in your cinchcast, does anyone else listen to Robert's stuff…Hmmm you don't know where you're going Robert, blog pimpin? [I love it!] Even if I had the chance to infringe on someones privacy, i wouldn't – but if it was out there then that's a whole different story. That's just me though..

    We are in control for the most part [ except for the clusters of data that have trapped you up already ], so think 1000 times before you do or say something on the web. That's the best control you can ever have, but as Robert very well mentions the whole deal with privacy is changing.

    That to me is scary…

  20. Yeah, I remember reading all sorts of Microsoft employee emails that were made public during the DOJ hearings. I'm sure they thought those emails would be kept private.

  21. Having no way to keep information private becomes really problematic when the data has no expiration date. We need a way to survive our mistakes and indiscretions, and move on. A single screwup or embarrassing episode shouldn't become the dominant force in our careers or lives, but we're heading toward a world where it will be.

    The trouble is that it becomes self-reinforcing. Once you become known for some incident, people go searching for more. Celebrities have always had to live with this phenomena due to their constant media attention, but now we're crowdsourcing it so that everyone will get to experience it.

  22. Yup, I sure hope we learn more about the guy who lost the iPhone. That's our latest example of someone who didn't ask for the public spotlight but was thrust there and Apple's PR control will keep him from changing the story in public, so that's a nasty one to get stuck with. At least I can put out something new and rewrite my own story over time, even after I screw up, which I do often.

  23. Fascinating commentary and topic. Excellent work scobleizer! In the frenzy of the current culture to include social media in all we do, this is a reminder to step back. Sometimes, baby steps are needed. As a PR pro, I am a strong believer in social media for clients, so I appreciate sharing. As my clients are government agencies, I know them reading this would scare the wits out of them, and have them running for cover.

  24. While I'm usually the first to post all of my stuff across the Internet, what I'm lamenting is the so-called control over that ability to share all my likes and dislikes being forcefully wrested from my grasp. Some people just don't like others knowing what they're into, or how they live, and I think it's rather arrogant and rude for something like Facebook to not only decide FOR those people what is worth sharing, but also to make it difficult and confusing for them to keep it private.

    It's not the actual sharing of people's information that I find repugnant, but that a company gets to decide for ALL of us, what exactly is WORTH sharing. That should remain with the people. Say a woman has had a history of sexual abuse and lives in fear of another attack…should it be up to Facebook to decide to post her address and shopping habits to the world? That might be a huge hindrance to her recovery! It's stuff like that which frightens me.

  25. Yes, Hot or Not seems similarly awful. I checked your Wikipedia link and it does in fact mention:

    “Facemash used photos compiled from the online facebooks of nine Houses, placing two next to each other at a time and asking users to choose the 'hotter' person'. To accomplish this, Zuckerberg hacked into the protected areas of Harvard's computer network and copied the houses' private dormitory ID images.”

    Seems to me similarly contemptuous and I'm surprised you were unaware of it. Not to detract from my prior point but 'Facemash' or whatever it was that's also documented in the 'book and forthcoming movie', gives a clear indication of the character of the individual who (arguably?) alone founded Facebook. It matters that this character is now affecting how privacy works online globally.

    Wrt your own contentment in 'living your life in public' that's all well and good but you and others here and perhaps even I represent a tiny fraction of the total Facebook user-base which is better characterized as those who recently logged onto ReadWriteWeb bleating 'where's the facebook login gone'.

    Love 'em or loathe 'em we have a responsibility to protect the 'public at large' and that's why I'm contributing this comment.

  26. Amen Scoble if you really don't want to share….DONT PUT IT ON THE NET! Realize that others might and there is nothing you can do about that.

    I am more worried about people who don't understand and my kids who don't are may not realize all the implications from a safety standpoint.

    As for the embarrassing stuff well that just is what it is…I do a good enough job of that without the net or Facebook, they can ad nothing there.

  27. The day things get interesting is when the argument “Why did you bother joining x site or posting x picture on the Internet?” – will be gone. Pictures of us will be circulated without our knowledge, our buying habits will have been analysed 500 times before were done our purchase and many will have commented on our poor style choices before we even leave our houses. The future is thick skin, not more privacy.. :)

  28. I totally feel the same way. But you can see where things can go with bad

    So I think we'll need to teach the younger generation of designers about the
    potential effects of their designs.

  29. +1 Well said and with more social networks / info et cetera our behavior towards sharing is exploding. Controlling your emotions can be tough, necessary though. You won't see the business corps fall for this…

  30. Couldn't agree more that much of the best of the web comes from people giving up some amount of privacy. It is a pretty fundamental fact that we have to share our thoughts, experiences, musical tastes, etc. to make this an interesting place to gather.

    I think all the noise is coming from the fact that many people aren't crazy about Zuckerberg and Facebook. Maybe they deserve it from some of the previous moves. Seems they need to be careful at this point. Sentiment is growing that Facebook can't be trusted with our information and losing trust for a company like Facebook, or Twitter, or Google, has to be the fastest way to crash and burn.

  31. Thank-you! I really do believe we should be allowed to direct the conversation we have with the world, and while megaliths like Facebook and Google do make provision for this, sometimes they can make it difficult for the person who isn't as immersed in social media technology as the rest of us are. And that just seems low-handed!

  32. This is really only the beginning. For now, it's a tracking device disguised as a “Like” button and a box containing what your friends said about a site. Widespread deployment of this is similar in concept to Google's ubiquity, except with Facebook they're more certain about the accuracy of identities because of the nature of their service.

    But going forward, the Like button that shares data with your friends when you click it (while sharing just about everything with Facebook even when you don't), becomes “Interests”. Then your “interests” become automatically plugged into your Facebook profile. You see where that's headed.

    Then there's the whole cloud computing thing. A step backwards in computer technology for the end user. Reminiscent of the mainframe where the central computer stored the applications and data and the end user's computer was nothing more than a dumb terminal. That's where this browser based OS and cloud computing is taking us. Your data is always stored with someone else. Your computer becomes dumb and controlled. Your experience is controlled through browser, apps, and widgets. Think of that as channels on a TV. Small portals to specific content. The freedom of the Internet is being eroded. Television 2.0. We just now sit closer to it, touch it, and have more tailored ads. It might sound crazy, but meaningful original content creation will be targeted as well. Control of content and information is a powerful thing. You think the establishment will continue to allow that kind of power for the common folks?

    There's a lot I could say about the whole direction technology is headed. Privacy has many facets. Control is gained in many ways. Step back and look at the whole picture.

    “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” – H.P. Lovecraft

  33. Thanks for giving me permission to delete some folks. There should ALWAYS be two or three levels of “friend.” A real one, an acquaintance, and someone who you don't know or care about… but don't want to deprive them the empty but meaningful pleasure of being “friended” by you. I wonder where Scoble and Garfield would put me. Category three no doubt. :)

  34. Larry, I am sure such app already exists or will be made shortly after. Companies that follow Zynga's success by the book would make it a very profitable venue of exploitation. This is inevitable, the shit is bound to hit the fan,but I don't see it as a bad thing. Facebook has to be abused and exploited for it to find the proper middle ground between freedom of its practices and regulation for each new feature.

  35. Scoble, unlike the vocal group of ignorant, sue-happy users who share everything about their personal life for the sole purpose of screaming bloody murder if its made public and then doing the blonde puppy eyes in court which would most certainly decide in favor of ignorance of the mass consumer, I only like and share stuff via my public Facebook profile that I want others to see and base their impression on me on that. It is hard for me to hide my contempt for the mass online user, to forgive me the folly of speaking out.

    If you friend me you will see what Levi Jeans I want you to believe I like. If I post photos of my ex-wide, its because I want to know who I screwed with a year ago. If I have naked photos, then it's because I want my Facebook Profile to be banned (no naked photos, just a friendly Zuck reminder). All you see in my Facebook profile is all I want people to know about me, to share around if they want to. I do have a Facebook account that is for personal uses only, and suffice to say it's not searchable and it's not accepting friends. I do not expect people to manage themselves like an online brand, but this is what the social public is all abound – self-promotion for fun and profit.

  36. No need of levels of other hardcoded system. You have the list functionality, which allows you to create lists of users. Now the privacy system, AFAIK, allows Customize of each permission which allows you to assign permission to certain Lists.

  37. Scoble, off-topic, but to me the whole Apple story is fabricated by Apple as they have many times proved that they'll send fake rumors to keep their competitors confused about issues of price, features and availability. What the iPhone 4G created is a powerful buzz that will build overall enthusiasm towards the June event.

  38. It is pretty clear now that it wasn't faked. Apple did, however, benefit from remarkable timing. With the HTC Incredible coming out this week now all the Apple faithful are hanging out and waiting for the new iPhone.

  39. It's not. What part made you think it was? That said, I do try to be somewhat entertaining. Sounds like I got too close to my goal for comfort! :-)

    1. Well i was being a little sarcastic. However, I could squint my eyes a little and make it appear to be satire.
      A cynic could read it and deduce that having no privacy is great because you can serendipitously find out when someone you know listened to Kennie G.

  40. Robert, I think you have “privacy” and “anonymity” confused. Privacy is a good thing – having the ability to control what goes to whom is a technology problem any public facing technology always wants, and should solve. It's the anonymity problem that makes the web a worse place. When you can't identify whom it is that is commenting, whom it is that are your friends, what people are doing around the web (that they want you to know), that's the problem that Facebook is solving. Privacy will always exist, and what Facebook has launched the last week doesn't get rid of privacy. It just removes a lot of anonymity across the web.

  41. Jesse, segregation of information types through anonymity is a form of privacy. We all use different systems and share information in different ways, each web app was an ACL for the user to administer. This could have been as simple as using different usernames. Facebook just eliminated that role based option the way it just implemented its Graph API. Personally, my online privacy doesn't bother me that much but auto opt-in services that affect privacy to the user should be made illegal as I wrote here because it's Deceptive –

  42. Agree – it's important we don't confuse the essence of Privacy with mere data. Privacy and Dignity are importantly intertwined. If Privacy dies, what happens to Dignity? Will we say “Dignity is dead”? If you get rid of Dignity, Humanity isn't far behind and Civilization collapses.

    Not all of us (who understand and “get it” with regard to the Web's effects on Privacy) are willing to sacrifice the larger meanings of Privacy.

  43. Really interesting post thanks alot – first time commenting on your posts but I read your blog all the time. Really insightful. I think the privacy debate needs to shift in a few ways. I think the concern is less and less over what information is 'embarrassing' and needs to be more about what is risky.

    I recently had a conversation with a practicing attorney, probably in her late 30s early 40s, who was lamenting how facebook would let anyone see pictures of her in a bikini at the beach if she used it. But I think that is the great part, that everytime we feel ashamed of something that becomes public (bad test grade, losing your super secret iphone, or pictures in a swim suit) you can look around and find a million other people in the same boat. All of a sudden its more difficult to feel ashamed and easier to identify with people in similar places. We all see each others dirty laundry so to speak and in doing so realize it isn't so dirty after all (Well Kenny G is pretty dull but thats ok).

    But what i do worry about is certain groups having access to some of this information. Specifically, I worry alot about the government having access. But we start from an assumption that the government should be able to use whatever information about people that is public knowledge (or in the case of technology widely used technology). Afterall, the government is the only ones who can physically control us. But the same is true for certain industries. While I can imagine a world where having my genetic data available could make some great services for me (food tailoring, disease prevention, ect) I certainly dont what my heath insurance provider to have that information and make decisions about what they will cover (it sorta defeats the utility).

    I guess I'll I'm trying to say, is piggybacking on your advice of having new tools to manage our information, we need to have a conversation about who should be allowed to use this data regardless of the individuals privacy setting on facebook.

  44. So then those who are willing to do something about it suffer because others are either lazy or ignorant of ramifications. great.

  45. Agreed, forced sharing appears to be stepping on the rights of the individual, driven by corporate opportunities and profit. The status of public/private needs to be clearly stated up front, and there should be legal repercussions based on scamming membership.

    Personally, I just assume all my web interactions are public and it's easier to move forward. Also I want to build tools that take advantage of public networks and make that information clear up front.

  46. I was haunted by thoughts of Little Shop of Horrors earlier in thinking about the deal I was making with Facebook, the identity and social web leaders. We're feeding Facebook information in exchange for the chance at advanced visibility. In our desperation to become heard, to become visible, we have sold the identity of our visitors to the public, in this case Facebook.

    I like Robert turned everything public on Facebook a while back just so there'd be no confusion on my part whom could see what. Living in public brings a lens on our duplicitous nature, so we're coerced into becoming more consistent with our online presence. Personally I appreciate this, but I can imagine a range of folks that don't want their private persona's mixing with their public image. It's precisely why I'm honest in just about every situation, I never have to remember a complexity of half truths.

  47. I am less concerned with the issue of privacy than I am with the question of ownership. Facebook or Google trading my information is no different to AT&T recording and selling my phone conversations. Somewhere there must be a great lawyer who can explain to me why this isn't theft? Similarly, ubiquity as a defense is like the Catholic Church saying child abuse is okay, beacuse we're religious… If the altruistic goal is an open web, then let Jimmy Wales give us a Wiki Social platform…

  48. I read this article, then went and hooked Pandora and FB together. Perhaps I don't consider this a privacy issue. Now, if my credit score and SSN were sent to FB every time I click the thumbs up on Pandora I would care. What is personal information? If Kenny G sells 5 million albums and there are only 20 million CD buyers in the U.S., I could assume 1 of the 4 guys in my cube farm likes him. Cuz, it ain't me… Or maybe it is. I guess if I think about it, there is that one song which is kinda nice to listen to…

  49. I shouldn’t have to discuss with anyone what I want to keep private. It’s none of your business. If Corporations are going to take over control of my Internet data then I’ll leave. They took control of telegraph, telephone, radio and TV communication and they aren’t gonna take control over my personal data. It’s bad enough our elected representatives gave away the gateway to Internet and I have to access it through a Corporation. And you giving away your personal data just so you get more music choices?!!? What kind of sickf are u?

  50. Technology isn’t going to change human nature. We, as individuals and groups, still have circumstances where privacy and anonymity is essential. This is a human desire and need which all the facebooks and advertisers in the web-o-sphere aren’t going to be able to change.

    I believe there are a lot of techno geniuses who want to make money in IT today, and from there we’ll get platforms which give us the control we need. People will gravitate towards those and away from public non-controllable systems like facebook. Facebook will become the haven of uncool people because the cool people will be in a place where they have control. Niche places. Not mainstream.

    It’s true that most people right now aren’t really aware of what they are giving away. But, they’ll get it. All you need is one lost job interview, one rejected mortgage application, one failed marriage, one angry ex hacking your email account, one stalker, or one situation of identity theft, to realize how hellish a give-away of your privacy can be.

    It may take a few years, but I think we’ll figure it out. Until then, people in our Internet generation, including young people, are going to get burned. We have a lot of stuff out there and we don’t really understand what’s happening. That’s the sad thing.

  51. Mark, you and I (and pretty much anyone who reads Scoble's blog) are OK with the assumption that our web interactions are public. But for the average Facebook user, I don't think their assumptions are the same nor would I want to expose any information of theirs that they consider personal just because we are linked. I spoke to a friend of mine just this week (who is in IT) and mentioned the link between Facebook and Pandora, I mentioned the bands he was listening to and he freaked out that I knew that he was a fan of certain bands. He deleted his Facebook account on Friday. Linking systems without the user creating that action surprises innocent people, you as a consumer should never be surprised in what info is exposed to others. This 1to1 exposure risk can really hurt someone in some cases and some people will not know until too late. We need to protect people from that unexpected exposure.

  52. Man, who's got time to go exploring all their friends' likes and dislikes, photos, etc? It can be interesting and all, but I can't think of a bigger time-waster than stuff like this. It's almost not about the privacy issue anymore (that's a whole other soapbox for me); it's about giving people yet more stuff to look at and more crap to crowd out the signals with. Am I the only one who doesn't have time for this?

  53. Specifically about Music – Zune Social had this over a year ago, as I recall. In fact, it's fancier – as it uploads your music listening history from offline device, once you sync. So you could be thinking you listening offline in your private little space, but it gets published later to the world.
    Though, I welcome it – we just all need to learn to manage this new found publicity we all got.

  54. The other side of that is the little pause that I now do before every commitment I make on the web. Do I really “like” something, enough to commit to it forever? Do I need to search that embarrassing medical problem—if my search was revealed to everyone?

    The names-attached social web is forcing us to construct identities we want to upkeep, and not all of that is 100% honest.

  55. Was just thinking this same thing! Pandora's instant personalization is great, actually. But at what point does this go from cool to creepy? Should be interesting to watch this unfold.

  56. Jesse, that's a good point. Thanks for this insight. Scaling back anonymity provides a more civil platform from which to speak; it's our expectations built on an anonymous web that are causing the confusion.

  57. The real question is are they doing it on purpose or is it just a bunch of coders who think this is just the logical right way to do it. Disigning software as long as I have, I must say I too have put together some pretty hard to use software in my day.

    It is easy to think this just seems logical to you. That is why I am now a big fan of user testing and feedback sites, not sure Facebook or other use them though.

  58. Lately I've been enjoying my private Posterous account. I actually have a public posterous account and a private posterous account where I only invite a select group of people to share the real dirt. Posterous really has a goldmine there and I wish they would focus on improving it even more, it can really come in handy in times like these where we are pushed to become way too public. It's like we would have to wear two masks during the day. One for keeping up appearances and the other to run wild and naked down a dark alley both I've probably already done in this lifetime.

  59. Wonderful first comment Austin, and Robert's blog is a great place to communicate with sharp folks. Your mention of governement control and public information being used by health companies is spot on. These are big issues we have to come to terms with. Is it worth disclosing my DNA? Are there anonymous DNA health insurance providers that charge a premium (that would make sense to me).

  60. Good counterview Erica. There are long term consequences of web interactions made in public. The good news is that we can always unlike something later (and we should always have that ability). The utility of the social web is bordering on our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This crosses into government utilities which are regulated.

  61. Facebook is the poster child but not the enemy – afterall they will likely become as dull as AOL in 10 Years.

    What's fundamental here is Privacy in its current form is dead. We need to put parameters that can be controlled by US the USER and not THEM the Company,Government or Website. That means assigning control to your content as specified by you but also we should take responsibility that not all content should be shared and not all websites have appropriate controls for sharing.

    We are building a solution to help users control and manage all their data sharing experiences, keeping us safer and making in control of our information.

    We would welcome you as part of our BETA program launching this summer, Please sign up at

  62. It's funny, in 1996 we didn't want to share our birthday's and many wouldn't make a purchase online. That seems laughable now. The same holds true with today's privacy concerns. The benefits will out-way the negatives. We'll get over it. We'll share even more of our selves. In 10 years we'll look back at 2010 and laugh about our privacy concerns while we complain about the next big thing that makes us even more open to the public. The cycle continues…

  63. 1) Do you really think everyone is so mundane as to have nothing that they might want to share with some but guard from others? Saying don't put it on the “the internet” is ridiculous; why shouldn't there be private spaces as well as public online? Facebook used to bill itself as such a space for friends.

    2) Often people give away information about themselves in ways which is not obvious. Knowing who someone's friends are or who posts on which wall how often conveys quite a lot of information.

    3) Information released on the Internet persists perhaps long after the current organizations and governments that safeguard us from abuse have changed their minds.

    For example, my friend is gay. His employer is a conservative Christian, and in Florida it is legal for the company to fire my friend for being gay. Even if it were illegal perhaps he would still be at risk for quiet discrimination. Should he avoid using Facebook to communicate with his openly gay friends because of the risk some computer program might look a his social graph and figure out that he is gay and has lots of atheist friends? You could ask the same question for critics of the Iranian government, people with rare diseases, people who are critical of the Tea Party, etc. In the future Madame Defarge won't need a quilt; she can just use Facebook.

    I just can't take white, straight, middle-class, politically mainstream people who have never experienced or feared discrimination seriously when they make the “what do you have to hide?” argument.

  64. I see that as a threat. Imagine it is the 1960s. “The man” wishes to squash dissent, so he can ship more 18 year olds to Southeast Asia. Protest music on Pandora shows up on one's Facebook profile, telling the man who to target with enforcement efforts.

    Honestly, Robert, you of all people should be thinking through this more than anyone. It disappoints me to see that you aren't.

    Unauthorized dissemination and use of someone's private info like that is offensive and dangerous. “Opt out” is unprincipled and offensive. This type of sharing should *always* be opt-in.

    All you've shown is that Facebook (and Pandora, for that matter) cannot be trusted–that I need to completely remove them from my life and (within the limits allowed by the TOS) seek to have my stored data deleted.

    For those of you who have similar concerns, NY Senator Charles Schumer has asked the FTC to investigate and come up with recommended guidelines for handling private, personal information. I would suggest that you contact your senators and representatives and ask them to join Sen. Schumer in this pursuit.

  65. Jesse, there is no freedom of expression where there is no anonymity. Neither is there any privacy. The two are deeply intertwined and unseparable.

    People are uncivil when they don't have the sense that they are communicating with someone like them, whether that is in meatspace, over the telephone, by snail mail, or in cyberspace. If you don't believe that, ask any black person who has been stopped merely because of his color. People are also uncivil when they work in formless organizations and are constrained by company policies.

    Now imagine Facebook tying Foursquare data to that opt-out public profile. Now that creepy janitor at your daughter's junior high knows when you're sitting in Starbucks over a latte while she's sitting at home. Or your college-age son's political views being linked and a prospective employer dropping you because of it. Or your neighbors picketing your house because you were interested in a new, eclectic religious group.

    The reason that the Web works for most people is because they have more-or-less separate identities for the different parts of their personalities. This pernicious aggegation will hurt web users, and eventually the web itself. As I said before, Facebook's anti-privacy actions are a threat to us all.

  66. Inxwalt (love the anonymous name), the advantage of Facebook is you have the
    ability to be as anonymous, or as real as you like. Want to keep the creepy
    Janitor from knowing where you are? Just don't publish to him. Privacy
    equals control. Anonymity means that creepy Janitor can be someone else and
    deceive. The more real he has to be, the safer place it is for your

    There is plenty of freedom of expression with privacy – in fact, there are
    numerous, endless ways to express when you have proper privacy controls in
    place. With anonymity, there is only one way – you express to everyone or
    nothing. Privacy *gives* us freedom to express how we want (and some times
    that can be to everyone). Anonymity takes it away.

  67. Jesse, everything in that last comment makes perfect sense if you're using an idealized purple-unicorns-and-fluffy-bunnies version of Facebook that does not in fact exist.

    Sure, the whole reason I joined Facebook was because I could share certain things with certain friends in a fairly controlled way. It let me keep up with real-life acquaintances that I don't see or talk to often, and let them do the same with me. It lowered the cost of maintaining contact, with the result that fewer relationships stagnated due to distance or lack of time. But the whole point was the control. If I thought all those things were so important it was worth making significant portions of my life completely public, I would have just created a blog or something.

    Facebook's main mission lately seems to be squeezing me out of any control I had. It's opting me into things by default, sharing too much when it does, sharing my info even when I've opted out just because my friends didn't… It's ridiculous. “Opt out” policy alone makes a mockery of “control”. If I have to find out about a new feature, wait for it to go live, and then track down a semi-hidden privacy preference to protect my data, then it's not protected. The entire period from feature launch to activating the privacy control, my data is just flapping out there in the breeze.

    All these fine-grained privacy controls that are supposed to be the whole point of Facebook over similar networks are dying.

  68. Many people didn't want to make purchases online in the '90s because they had questions about fundamental security. Time and effort have laid most of those questions to rest.

    Many people have issues with these new features because there are questions about who gets to see that data, who controls that data, and what the long-term consequences are. Those questions have no been answered yet (or if they have the answers have been disturbing).

    To assume that people will continue to publicly broadcast ever more private information just because you think that's been the trend for the last ten years or so is pretty simplistic. By that logic the car ahead of me at the stoplight earlier should have crashed into the McDonald's doing 120 because it was steadily accelerating during the period I was paying attention to it. Conditions change, perceptions change, people use these things called brakes.

  69. The point is you still have control though, Mike. No controls were taken
    away from you this last week. A new feature was added in which you could
    opt-in to liking things on participating sites, but still, the actual “like”
    process has to be a click from you to be tracked. Any other information
    that can be gathered about you is opt-out. At least you have that option.
    It was given to you before you needed to block that information going to
    those sites. And even if you didn't, at default, only your name, location,
    and profile image, along with list of friends were exposed in that process.
    Nothing else. Facebook is still just as safe as ever, and they have proven
    to provide even *more* privacy controls over time, not less. You can select
    specific groups of people to post status updates to, for instance. That
    feature wasn't there 3 months ago.

    I think Facebook has made their intentions clear that they *want* you to
    have that control. They've made you aware of what publicly available data
    they're going to expose, but beyond that, you've got a whole lot of control
    you don't have elsewhere, and I only see that improving over time.
    Facebook's entire premise is privacy. I don't see that going away, or
    slowing down in the future.

  70. While I may trust the site I sign up with (Google, Facebook, etc.) I do not necessarily trust the sites they decide to give my information to. This is one reason I prefer Google over Facebook. While the “personal” integration is great I prefer the site that has my info to pull info to me and not push my info out to the world (like Facebook is constantly trying to do).

    Didn’t we learn this lesson with traditional marketing? As soon as one “trusted” vendor gets your info they give it to a couple “trusted third party vendors” and of course at least one of them sells it to anyone and everyone because they really aren’t that trustworthy and they know that no one can know who sold it.

    What? One of Facebook’s third party sites sells it and when asked if they did they are going to say, yes? No, they won’t and we won’t know if they did or didn’t. That’s the problem. It’s a slippery slope once you push personal info outside of the company walls. This is one instance where the “walled garden” is a good thing, IMO.

  71. Yes, I simplified it quite a bit but I think it will hold true.

    People will continue to publicly broadcast even more private data because over time we become numb to it. Privacy is eroding and I don't see an end in sight. We get upset with Facebook and Google because they are pushing the limits but there are countless companies flying under the radar. Do people realize the amount of data that Adobe and Omniture collect? How about Eloqua, SalesForce, and Baynote? What about xobni?

    I'd be worrying less about the companies that are making this public and worrying more about the ones that are collecting the data in private. It only takes an email address to connect someone across thousands of databases and this is being done in hundreds of companies worldwide and it's getting more prevalent.

    I agree with you that there are questions that need to be answered. Facebook, Google, and everyone else need to be clear on how they use the information. I really wish that all of these new features would be opt-in and not opt-out. There needs to be checks and balances. But for so many to flat out dismiss and become angered over these features is a bit much. For us to reach the next phase of the web (the right-time web, semantic web, synaptic web, etc.) this data is crucial and beneficial to all of us.

  72. In the three weeks I've been on Facebook, I've had to lock down the same settings multiple times. Things I set to “friends only” get reset to “everyone” with no prior notice.

    So, no users are *not* in control.

  73. This is exactly why the article I wrote over the weekend was entitled: Facebook LIKE is like an Open Book.

    People can kick and scream or just accept the fact that our lives will be an open book, if they aren't by now!

  74. If you're going to “like” something, then why not a “dislike” button? Or love it, hate it, could care less, button? Ratings are the logical next step/

  75. There's “dirty laundry” in the global context, and there's “dirty laundry” in the personal context. Yeah, you can see that there are others in the same boat. So what?

    That doesn't help when your employee, or your friends, or your school, or your community is judging you and holding your personal life against you. Gay? Have cancer? AIDs? Like rope and handcuffs? Have a criminal record? Reading “banned” books? Totally against the current political party?

    Sometimes the discrimination can be open. And at other times you may be wondering why you keep getting passed over for promotions. Or wondering about the real reason you were fired. Or why you can't get a job or insurance coverage.

    “Everyone” may be doing it, but people may still hold the fact that you're doing it against you. Or worse, use it against you.

  76. “We can always unlike something later…”

    Can we? They said they deleted it… but did they? Maybe it's still there, just hidden? Or did someone else (government, credit agency, insurance company) record and store that fact about you?

    If it was once visible, then in all likelihood it exists. In many places. Permanently.

    To think that it can be controlled, regulated, or that you can always just “undo it” is foolish.

  77. It would be nice if all that nifty sentiment and personalized data was under the full control of each web browser (perhaps stored in a neutral / encrypted locale?). As in, not even Facebook would have access to identifying Jess likes bacon, unless you allowed that specific entity access. It's silly though, because as soon as one open source knows, the Net knows.

  78. Hey Walt agree with your take on control shifting from the user to social network as they opt in to something like Facebook. Any corporate entity in charge of connecting people is going to come to a conflict of interest down the road. Am I more concerned with protecting individual user rights or am I more concerned with making a profit? By definition corporations are dictatorships with some oligarchy features (boards). It's difficult to maintain protection of individual user rights in corporate run businesses and only full transparency can do so, which undermines (user) privacy and corporate goals.

    Side note: I see you're a fanatic Linux gent and Ruby coder. Do you have an opinion on JRuby (Surinx) with integration of invokedynamic into JDK7 versus Rubinius (C/C++ based Ruby) implementation speeds? I'm looking forward to large improvements for benchmarks like Alioth's shootout

  79. I've been keeping loose tabs on it from your descriptions. Unfortunately there's only so many topics I can maintain attention on while learning, working, and building.

    My limited understanding is that Kynetx is an identity management and privacy tool with single login and information control.

    Is it a company or a non-profit?

  80. I hope we never see a hate button. There's enough hate in the world. If you hate something the best thing to do is just never apply your digital fingerprint to it.

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  86. Robert,

    I'm confused. You dedicate almost this entire post to the theme “the death of privacy is good so that we get these new features” (paraphrase) and then go and say essentially what the privacy advocates are saying in summary point #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).”

    That's all (most) people want. They want to decide whether their FB friends know that they listen to Kenny G on Pandora. They want to decide if their accounts are linked or not.They want to opt in not be forced to figure out how to opt out.

  87. Jesse, anonymity is what enables you to express deeply held but unpopular beliefs. Anonymous speech is the reason I'm sitting in the United States instead of a British colony. Anonymous speech gives us the ability to discuss politics without having it come up in future interactions with law enforcement.

    If everything you do is identified with you, Everything can be used to pressure you to conform with someone else's sense of normal.

    Think back a couple of years. A young woman expressed her indecision about accepting a “fatty” job with Cisco Systems. Her comment wasn't private, so it got out to the world–and then her anonymity was breached. She was hounded and called names for expressing her view that she wasn't sure she wanted to work for a major tech company. Now imagine Facebook linking her comment on a Cisco-related “like” page with her full name. Her “friends” and others who were linked to the Cisco page then see her comment on any Cisco-related site.

    De-anonymizing is repression. It is the first step toward dictatorship. Maybe not the kind that the Europeans had (e.g., far right or far left using force or the threat thereof to control people). More likely something akin to China, where tremendous social pressure is used to keep people in line, with force being the last option.

    By the way, lnxwalt is a more targeted identifier than my first and last names. There are at least two other people with my name in Google searches, but so far, I'm the only lnxwalt that shows up.

    There are two very different components to identity. The first is where you come from. This is information like your name, your date of birth, your place of birth, your address, your ethnic background, your national citizenship, and your relatives. The second is who you see yourself as, which is often expressed in nicknames, online handles, the activities you participate in, and the people and groups you form relationships with. The two kinds of identity require different forms of protection. Often, the key to free expression is the ability to keep data of one type from becoming associated with data of the second type. Hence the necessity for anonymity.