Much ado about privacy on Facebook (I wish Facebook were MORE open!!!)

Facebook Like Buttons

Jeff Jarvis wraps up a couple of weeks of bloggers’ angst about Facebook in a post titled “Confusing *a* public with *the* public.”

Some things.

1. I +love+ the Facebook like button. More on that in a minute.
2. So far only about 50 of my more than 1,300 friends have disappeared from my Facebook friend network. Hardly an indictment by the tech elite (and some of those probably haven’t deleted their accounts, but just removed me as a friend, something that’s pretty common and has been seen every year — keep in mind that’s since last August, so I don’t even think I’ve lost 50 friends in past month).
3. There’s a competitive social network,, which answers all of Jeff’s concerns (has much better thought out model of privacy and publics) but so far it hasn’t seen any major adoption.
4. Isn’t this the fifth time Facebook has pissed off pundits? What happened the previous four times it pissed off people? Oh, yeah, it saw huge growth.
5. When I was in Tel Aviv Facebook’s like buttons were so popular people were wearing them as fashion statements and at the biggest tech conference there, Marker.Comvention, they were handing out Facebook like buttons as stickers.

But over the past few weeks I’ve talked with lots of people about Facebook and my attitude toward privacy. It’s clear that Facebook has messed with something and that some of us are having a tough time with that. I think Jeff nailed what it was.

Instead of calling it “publics” I say we wanted to be in control of our story. I said that Facebook had brought us an inch closer to the end of privacy.

The thing is, my wife says she doesn’t care. My wife is closer to a normal user than I ever will be. I haven’t cared about privacy for years. If I don’t want you to read something I don’t put it on a computer. Period.

Remember, I worked at Microsoft. What happened in 2000? The DOJ took all of Microsoft employees’ supposedly private emails and put them into public. So I knew back then that anything I put on a computer could end up on the front page of the New York Times.

This is why I took a very transparent attitude for the past decade toward my life. I have always set my Facebook to the most public setting possible.

Whoa?!? Here’s the deal: I wish Facebook had NO PRIVACY AT ALL!

That’s called the open web. I wish Google could index every word I write on Facebook. Hint, it can’t.

The thing I hate about Facebook is that people who want to see my profile can’t. Even now only 5,000 of you can look at my Facebook profile. That’s lame.

I want to live my life in public. Why? Because that way none of you can exploit me more than any other.

Right now 1,300 people have access to my Facebook profile. That sucks.

I wish you all had access to my profile.

Yes, I know some of you have delusions of creating the equivalent of an exclusive dinner party, or, even, something bigger like a TED conference in your Facebook page.

I’m just so bored with all that talk. Just what are you doing that needs to be so damned private? Are you having sex inside Facebook? Doing illegal drugs? Cheating on your wife? Damn, your Facebook life must be SO interesting!

Me, count me out of this whole privacy thing. I want everything I do to be public and then I don’t have to spill thousands of words crying when Mark Zuckerberg takes my stuff and exposes it in a search engine.

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about why I love Facebook’s new features so much.

1. I’m finding new restaurants, thanks to Yelp‘s use of Facebook’s likes.
2. I’m finding new hockey players to follow thanks to NHL‘s use of Facebook’s likes.
3. I’m finding new questions and answers thanks to‘s use of Facebook’s likes. (That’s the #18th biggest site on the web, and they just turned on likes).
4. I’m finding new music over on Pandora thanks to its sharing of my Facebook’s friend’s music listening behaviors.

So, cry me a river. Your “publics” have been destroyed. Your privacy is gone.

Come join us in the open web Facebook! Get rid of all the walls, including the stupid limits of 5,000 friends and the stupid kicking people off of the service (which continues to this day).

I applaud that Zuckerberg is trying to be less like AOL and more like the open web.

Now excuse me, I’m off to click “like” on some more things and, even, have added a new bar from Wibiya where you can see other people who have clicked like on my blog. Oh, yet another cool feature thanks to Zuckerberg’s throwing our publics under the bus.

Thank you Mark!

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

167 thoughts on “Much ado about privacy on Facebook (I wish Facebook were MORE open!!!)

  1. Your wife doesn't care about Facebook privacy?

    Is that a lie or oversight?

    “Maryam only shares some of her profile information with everyone. If you know Maryam, send her a message or add her as a friend.”

    Or, maybe it's because you are missing the point. The privacy people are worried about isn't what they type in their status updates, it's all that personal info like their address, phone number, and kid's names. I notice that regardless of how “open as can be” your profile is that there is no information about your children. I assume this is deliberate in order to protect them and their privacy. Your response will no doubt be that people shouldn't put that kind of information online. However, this is EXACTLY why Facebook is big and popular. Family and friends join Facebook when they have never joined anything else online in order to stay in touch with real people from their real lives. Take that away and you have just another techie social community and Internet marketing platform that your Mother has never heard of and would never join in a million years.

    Sure, when you use your Facebook profile as a carefully executed extension of your self-promotion strategy, who cares about privacy. When you actually use it to stay in touch with friends and family (which is why Facebook has 500 million users) then its another thing entirely. Of course, if the former stays and the latter goes, then Facebook becomes just another Digg + MySpace waiting for Google, Microsoft, or Yahoo to step in and buy up a little extra traffic.

  2. When most geeks say “open web” they mean can they use APIs to get to data and/or can Google or Bing's spiders get inside the walls and get to the data. At least in my experience. Well, now we are finding out there's a cost of being “open.” Twitter is open. Facebook? Not so much. sesli sohbet

  3. Elizabeth, *I* know that, and haven't, but that is no argument toward the other 400M FB users who may have trusted FB. It's like saying “you're not required to give your online banking app your account number, so don't”… this “absolutist argument” as I like to call it just doesn't hold water.

  4. Ok my last rant here… Hasn't anyone watch an action/thriller in the past 10yrs (The Bourne trilogy, Mission Impossible, Transporter, & 100 others) or TV… NCIS anyone?? Look at the information that these show being retrieved… Are you all really naive enough to think this is ALL FICTION??!!

    Ever heard of the Patriot Act?? This took away our last rights to privacy.

    Privacy in U.S. not any more!! Not since technology & Bush.

    All we can do is our best to keep what we want out of the public eye… & take the responsibility to live a life we are not ashamed of.

    Bless~ed Be! & Regards,
    Elizabeth Jo

  5. Doesn't the avg. human want the world to revolve around him/her self? Ah reality will hit him sooner or later… probably later. Ah such is life.

  6. Paul,

    Good point, I didn't realize how much Google IS on the net until I starting sharing the articles/blogs I find useful to others…

    Competition is always good… choice is VERY good. But, even if someone comes along with competition to Facebook we'll still run into the same “privacy” issues.

  7. Paul,

    Unfortunately, here in the U.S., there is still a lot of discrimination when it comes to sexuality. It's also still a very taboo subject.

    If you're not straight & other know it they're uncomfortable around… for the most part. Always exceptions though.

  8. FYI it's not a REQUIREMENT to give your sexual preference, relationship status, or a lot of the other “privacy” info on Facebook. So DON'T.

  9. With all this concern about Facebooks privacy policy and you're solution of just keeping it public. I haven't read anything about the real concern people should have regarding privacy. And no it's not about what silly skeletons people have in there closet, I can careless about that and what people may see in mine. My real concern and THE real concern is IDENTITY FRAUD.
    I don't delude myself with thoughts that it can be squashed but I do want to make as difficult as possible for criminals. And with this all public stance, it makes it very easy.
    I mean. FB has your name, FB has your birthday, FB has your street address. All things typically entered by a facebook user, yes? if it's public, what's to slow down a criminal from using or selling that information to steal your identity and open up credit accounts or have it used by some illegal alien nefarious work.
    This is what really scares me. Shouldn't social companies like FB at least put in some privacy restrictions so we, as users, can select who gets to see that information? or should we not share that information to friends/family via these social venues?

  10. Did you sign up for Facebook when it required a college E-mail address? For some of us we didn't sign up to share all our information with the public. I guess it's Facebook's right to run their business how they want, but that doesn't mean I don't think they suck for what they've done here.

  11. I'm glad to hear that. Truth is, is that I agree with you. But I would phrase it this way. It's the end of the illusion of privacy on net. The net is all about sharing and to think someone can post something to it and it be “private” is based on a false assumption. Facebook played the magician and created this illusion for people and now they're removing the “vale”. And as with anything people don't like change specially ones that slam them with reality.

    I also had my profile set to as public as it could be, however, lately I've realized that I don't want Facebook being the gatekeeper of my interests, I don't trust it enough for that. So I've closed everything down to “only me” and I keep the profile active to interact with those friends that still use it.

    My public social sharing is currently exclusively kept by Twitter and it's current capabilities.

  12. you can, it's called a Page. if you want it to be so open then why have 2 profiles. you said it yourself, you have two profiles. One private, the other public. Get rid of the profiles, move to a page and do what you do with either on your Page…you haven't and you wont… isn't that hypocritical of you?

  13. Hi adir1, that's an interesting question. But I don't think so. I think what that setting means is that he can go directly to that person's wall/newsfeed and be able to see everything. What he is seeing instead is stuff showing up in his newsfeed. If what you're saying is true, based on what he sees, we'd all be seeing loads of crap from people we don't know who we are not friends with show up in our newsfeeds and that would be really confusing and quite spammy!!!

  14. I completely echo Mr Goldstein. To create a relationship on one premise and demonstrate behaviour on entirely another premise, is frankly insidious. To use your own analogy, it is the online equivalent of lying to your wife family and friends all at once. Facebook should roll this back or someone else should take their place. The problem and unintended consequence with “public”, and open web, is it actually drives the opposite behaviour and pushes its users to behave in a more guarded, unopen manner. Particularly if your trust has been repeatedly abused. According to the immutable laws of physics, the mere act of observing an object, will change its trajectory. We are now the observed objects. And therein lies the rub for facebook.

  15. Where shall we draw the line, then?
    I mean, what would you do that you're so ashamed of you wouldn't tell your dad about it?
    I don't want to share anything about my tastes because of the commercials which always get the keywords wrong, about my private life because my boss added me, about my appearance because I'm wearing a weird haircut, about my religion/political opinions because it offends people, about my location because I DO have stalkers…
    What shall I share then? My insights about tech? What happens when I want to leave my geek persona for a while?

    I insist, you don't get it, Facebook was a really cool tool to share with your friends online the same things you would offline, and now it's become the thing you want to avoid getting private with. Don't you see the problem?

  16. I think the focus on whether you're a typical Facebook user is misguided. The fact that you happen to want everything public is irrelevant. The key point, in my opinion, is that Facebook created a place where people felt they could privately share things and then once they had in everyone inside they changed the rules. And they know damn well that most people don't know or understand the changes. So your rant about wanting everything public and use of extreme examples of why other people want things private is all well and good – but it really doesn't have anything to do with the reason people are angry. They're angry because they feel duped. For what it's worth, i think you're one of the most valuable, important voices on the web, but in this particular case i couldn't disagree with you more.

    Read more:

  17. Thanks for reply, and I am definitely working hard to educate women in my life on that.
    I think everyone agrees that Facebook can do more in this department as well, starting by setting defaults to As Private as Possible, rather than Public with few exceptions…

  18. No, we shouldn't tell them to shy away from Facebook. But I will do them better long term to tell them to keep stuff off of the Internet they don't want others to see then to try to teach them how to use Facebook's privacy system which may or may not change at some point in the future anyway.

  19. Robert, first – I am with you and I am pretty much Ok with everything I post on Facebook being totally public.

    HOWEVER, ask most young women out there and they will tell you how important privacy is to them. It is of course for obvious reasons – but I ask you, should we just tell them just to stay away from Facebook and alike sites? It seems ironic, since that is the population that traditionally loved to SHARE most (and likely top facebook users already).

  20. It could be that person who's original post you commented on has “allow friends of friends to see posts”, which I believe is the default.

  21. Do you remember in the 90's when people talked about how dangerous it was to meet people online (e.g. internet dating)? You could meet a crazy person and be killed. Well, the same thing can happen at the bar. Now, almost everyone knows someone who has met their wife/husband on a site like Well guess what? That photo of you at the bar, or that person you're speaking to in private – these things can come out with or without the internet. Maybe the problem is that you have things to hide.

    The fact is the internet is becoming more and more like the real world – at scale. People have to get comfortable with this. I think a lot of these privacy concerns are purely because it's a good controversial media topic. If you're really upset about privacy, you do have the option to NOT join Facebook. But that's not an option, because they have added so much to your life… in fact, aren't the benefits much better than the risks?

  22. Interesting take on privacy vs. let it all hang out. Why are we here anyway? For connection. For attention. Because we want to know what other people think and feel without having them deliver the goods through a social mask, maybe. Etc. Once in a while I dutifully privatize my settings; but I always change my mind and go back to clicking “Everyone.” Even if I hate you — I want you to read my stuff, and I want to read yours! But usually I start liking people once I get inside their minds in this innocuous way. So, go Face book! Why the hell not. I’m with the author of this blog, and I really like her honest style.

  23. I see the advantages of the current openness, and I benefit from them, however I would like to be told when “default” settings are changed, actually before they are changed. You mentioned finding music because of your friend’s list I agree this is good. HOWEVER, I have placed my phone number on my profile because I want the people I “friend” to be able to call me, I DO NOT want everyone in America to have my number. If necessary I will remove my number. But, it is nice to be able to give it to my friends, some whom I have not talked to in years. Just not to the whole world, and not without being warned first so I can decide if I want it “public” or not.

  24. I don't know. My ex is welcome here for dinner, so I guess I'm happy I don't have anyone like that in my life. If I did I probably would put far less online than I do now.

  25. So how long do you think one should be so careful? Is a year after the divorce enough? Five years? Wait till your ex gets remarried?

    With the kind of info you make public, I am glad you don't have an ex as crazy and dangerous as the one my husband has. Even 10 years later she would still be dangerous.

  26. Give me a break. First of all, if you are trying to avoid an ex-wife it would be best not to put anything into writing on a computer. Why not just call all your friends and tell them where to meet you for dinner? When I was going through my divorce the last thing I would have done would have put something on the computer that she could use against me.

  27. No, my dad's lesson is clear: if you want something to be kept private keep it away from consumer Internet services. Hell, even keep it away from family dinner table!

  28. Having an ex-wife anywhere that wants info on your current life, popping on to facebook and taking the info she wants from the profiles of you and whoever you are with currently, isn't such a good thing either.

    Make some dinner plans you think are private, between you and your facebook friends, and your ex-wife then having access to it and showing up at the right restaurant at the right time, just to harass you, would be a nightmare.

    Which was the point I was trying to make in my earlier comment about people unfriending their ex's to prevent things like that.

  29. I wanted to comment, got too long, made a blog post of of it:

    In essence, I deeply disagree with you. We are not all celebrities, and I don't think users are ready for such a shift. The sns trend is still fairly young and there is a lot of examples proving that users are not familiar with it yet, at least not enough.

    Facebook started as a really cool tool to share things with your friends, not it's a marketer's paradise and a productivity pit. Not remotely as practical to satisfy its own basic claim as it was before. Users are confused and FB is playing on it. I can't say I like it.

  30. From your early blog entries mentioning how your father worked in top-secret Lockheed Martin and dismayed you by sharing little about himself…your bias toward compulsive “sharing” has seemed rather clear. You’ve chosen to make your career based in part on decrying the existence of individual unwatched quiet lives. You’ve freely chosen to live your life online. That’s fine. But it’s your choice. You’re, it seems, and perhaps you’ll forgive my vagueness, “that kind of person.” Which is not like everyone. You live out loud. You pontificate. You turn the camera on your wife who’s talking baby talk while you squeal in the rain outside the Seattle Library, narrating narrating, talking about yourself, and then leave the video there for 7 years. Perhaps you feel you don’t fully exist if, for whatever reason, for a time, you’re hampered from publicly broadcasting yourself, your life, your opinions, your rants–and being watched, read, observed, consumed, and commented on. That’s fine. But, again, many people aren’t like you. And don’t want to be. Like me, for example. Wanting to connect with friends, send and receive invitations, share photos, get the latest from a business you care about, ask your community for a bit of input or advice, share some playlists and videos–that’s what most people do on social sites. You’ve chosen to create a life where you blog…blog about blogging, blog about blogging, speak about blogging, blog about speaking, self-expose, self-promote, wave your arms, wave your opinion banner, talk talk talk about yourself, blare your opinions, endlessly, indiscriminently, all very publicly. You”ve made your name and whatever “fortune” based on declaring that everyone ought to see things as you do. Mocking people who don’t. And you’re rewarded by people who find it compelling or amusing or who believe you own a nugget of truth. And I don’t doubt that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for you to reflect or synthesize complexity. And instead facilely declare privacy as unnecessary or passe. With all the outward projection of yourself that goes on, it would be nigh on impossible to quiet down and actually think things through, imagine another perspective, experience, or preferences other than your own. And then keep it to yourself for a while to see what happens…or doesn’t? (You won’t ex/implode if you don’t share and expose yourself) You’ve been lauded for your blurts and bleats for almost a decade. I doubt you can shut up. Or stop “sharing” if you tried. You long ago gave away your privacy. You don’t got none more to lose. Not everyone would find what you do or say as reflective of the kind of world we hope to create and live in. Your glibness and strong self-will to some may be an asset. But to me, your cleverness doesn’t translate to depth or to actual meaning. Or inspires depth or appreciation for that which is meaningful. You want to be turned onto new music? Go to a local business and talk to the owner, or have a conversation with some people in a coffee shop. Is your life really that much better or worse or deliciously smug knowing Kenny G popped up on Cooper’s playlist? Give the guy a fucking break–you have no idea what it means for Kenny G to have shown up in his Pandora. You know how quirky Pandora is. Do you care about meaning? or is that too slow and pedestrian? Of course you’re going to espouse pushing privacy over the cliff—there’s no public evidence of your ever having valued your own unwatched private quiet non-commerical non-monetizable time. Why would you value anyone else’s? And besides…your ability to profit, sale of books, speaking engagements, is predicated on doing everything you can to manifest your opinion into reality. That’s fine. But beyond that being one person’s story—yours—this is what’s really boring to me. Not privacy. Your publicness is boring. Your zeal for monetizing yourself is boring. Your aggressive push to convert people to your way of thinking is boring. Your desire to ramrod your self-interested opinion up the public marketplace of ideas in order to further their own profit is boring. Yawn. Ultimately, tho, this is about choice. Allowing people to live as boringly public or as boringly privately as they choose to live. And companies mining, harvesting, and intending to utilize our behavioral data for commerce be transparent about their intentions — and allow people to exercise free choice. And opt in or out as they freely choose.

  31. I guess it really is old-fashioned about me, but I think that a generation with no wall between public and private has a name: psychopathic. Hey, don't take the brown acid.

  32. Bryan I think expectations for privacy are set by the type of service one is using on the internet. For Twitter and Linkedin, one doesn't expect or necessarily want privacy. For Facebook however, given how it started and was/is marketed and used and the fact that 1) there are settings which allow for various degrees of privacy or openness and 2) the Canadian government lawsuit against Facebook last year determined that they needed stricter privacy settings which leads to 3) as a global entity FB is subject to not just privacy laws in different countries and cultures but a differing set of cultural privacy expectations.

    I think a reasonable person would say that if I am on Facebook and I have set my privacy settings to the most closed settings, then there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. There is a difference however in having that expectation and having suspicion that I may need to still excersize reasonable care and caution in what I post to Facebook as one cannot control the actions of others (including FB) on what they might do with someone else's content. Therefore – as such – I do not post photos of my kids or post anything which I may consider to be too sensitive for anyone in general to see or read. However I have a reasonable expectation that my comments on one friends wall post will not show up in the newsfeed of another friend who is not friends with that person. It's not how FB is supposed to work! This is a glitch which made me realize ok they have the settings but a bug can circumvent it, therefore I deactivated my account.

    While people should be cautious about what they share on the internet if they have a concern about privacy, I don't buy the argument that we should expect our privacy to be eroded to nothing and expect that is how the world will be and if we dont like it we shouldnt use the internet. There are laws and regulations which still protect our right to privacy. The laws maybe havent caught up to the technology but they will. Generally speaking advances in technology and science occur faster than the ability to understand the consequences how something like gene patents and tests should be administered. But people should be aware that it's much easier for the government to compell a third party like Google/gmail and Facebook to turn over your information than it is for them to get it directly from you in your home.

  33. Which just shows how big a hypocrite Schmidt is.

    What we do in this space gets recorded. That information can be released inadvertently, or deliberately. I'm not telling you to just embrace the suck just because you can. You can adjust your privacy settings as you will. I would grant that FB needs to figure out just where they would like to see the defaults, and keep to it, and not readjusting everybody's security every time they feel it needs to be tweaked. We can either let market forces make them figure out how to deal with it, or we can go with draconian legislation that won't fix the underlying problems that you see.

  34. A novel concept you have there. Or not. Google's Eric Schmidt said, “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.” Right? Yet, for about a year, Schmidt blacklisted CNET reporters from Google after the tech news company published an article with information about his salary, neighborhood, hobbies, and political donations — all obtained from Google searches.

  35. The “stick a bunch of buttons on it” approach is my problem with Facebook's closed Social Plugins. I dev for MUZU.TV and we want to offer Facebook Like, and Twitter share and a MySpace button and so on. But we don't want to stick a bunch of buttons on our site. We want one button tailored for the user. And we want to know when the user clicks it so we can use the data to power our social features and Most Popular lists. But we can't piggy back on Facebook's new button, it's an iframe or fbxml with no callback parameter.

    So we either ignore facebook (not a good idea) and implement our own Like button that isn't very useful or we adopt Facebook Like and… well, forget about doing anything on our site with the data. Synching the data back through Open Graph is next to impossible because we have 53,000 possible Like pages and you need to manually admin each one before you can get the data back throng the API.

    We think some of this problem is simply that Social Plugins and Open Graph are very new and half baked, that they will change to fix these issues.

    But some of it seems like positioning by facebook and they are powerful enough to ignore our needs.

    Really we need proper competition for facebook so that no one website can dominate the choices of others (*cough* google *cough*)

  36. You can TRY to make that decision for yourself. But I think in the end, to really keep whatever private, you're just going to have to face the fact that it shouldn't be on the Internet, period. But if you plan on participating anywhere (and this includes in real life, I hope you understand that), you are most likely going to lose any hope of privacy. It's just in real life, we don't have Google (among others) going around and recording it for posterity either.

  37. All valid points Bryan, but let me make that decision for myself. I don't need you, or Robert or Mark Zuckerberg making that decision for me, on the assumption that that's what I want.

    The issue here is not as much about the privacy itself, as it it about the ethics (or lack thereof) behind the frequent changes in the policy to suit their corporate goals.

  38. I'm reminded of an argument I was having on a mailing list recently, of which there are two mailing lists that are of the same ilk, and probably over 50% of the participants are on both lists.

    One person thought that it was “rude” and “unethical” to be crossposting emails from one email list to another. And considering that the participants are usually rational, I replied back that it might be rude, but I saw nothing unethical about it. I never did get a rational answer back. A lot more emails were spent talking about crossposting in seven days than emails that actually get crossposted.

    The list is unmoderated, any person can join and look at the archives to see what's there. Sorry, that's thinking that there is privacy there where there isn't even a hint of it.

    And I'm pretty sure my Facebook profile is about as open as it gets as well.

    When it's to the point that practically everything you type and look at on the Internet gets recorded one way or another, I have to ask, just what kind of privacy do you think you have? If you're that worried, shut the computer, the router, the modem and probably even your phone (wireless or line) off, and then try and live your life without any of it — for the rest of your life.

  39. Facebook makes it easy to share photos. Most people would rather upload a bunch of photos once than have to upload the whole roll to every single friend or family member who might be interested in seeing Felicia's 4th birthday party.

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