Image Credit: Billboard: Howard Berman/Stone/Getty ImagesFacebook has a genuine crisis on its hands. Need proof? Just type the letters “dele” into Google and check out the first suggested search term. (For the lazy, it’s “delete facebook account.”) It’s official: People are now creeped out by the social networking site. Facebook’s recent changes to profile privacy — and the ways it shares personal data — are convincing many to pull the plug (or at least consider doing it) rather than sift through the 50 settings and 170 options offered to manage their privacy on the site.
Facebook’s vice president for public policy, Elliot Schrage, attempted to assuage some of these concerns by answering reader questions in a New York Times Q&A published earlier this week, but some people found his answers a bit too polished and lacking in real substance, if not a bit condescending. (Ex.”Our extensive efforts to provide users greater control over what and how they share appear to be too confusing for some of our more than 400 million users. That’s not acceptable or sustainable. But it’s certainly fixable.”) So now, according to AllFacebook.com, Facebook is holding an “all-hands meeting” scheduled for today at 7 p.m. ET to address users’ growing concerns over privacy issues.
Personally, privacy issues have never particularly bothered me, and until recently, I’ve never given much thought to my privacy on Facebook. That’s probably because I’m not compelled to overshare personal information with people I haven’t seen or talked to since junior high school, even if it is kinda cool to see photos of them on the site all these years later. I update my Facebook profile once or twice a week to share an interesting article, an engaging song, or a harmless photo or video of my family, mostly to feel closer to loved ones living far away who I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like. If that kid who was on my sixth-grade Little League team sees a family photo from our Disney World vacation, comments that my daughter is cute, and then a week later wishes me a happy birthday, I’m okay with that. And I don’t really mind if a stranger sees that photo either – I don’t post anything that would make me uncomfortable if a random weirdo (or colleague) sees it.
This recent privacy backlash, however, prompted me to investigate a bit, and I’ve learned that maybe I’ve been a bit naive, even about my limited usage of the service. Consumer Reports‘ “7 Things to Stop Doing on Facebook” article includes a warning about sharing your full birth date, including the year. I’ve always shared my birth date because I don’t care if people know how I old I am. CR, however, tells me that sharing that little piece of information opens me up to identity theft. What’s more, sharing other things, like photos of children (check!), kids’ names (check!), and times when you may be on vacation and away from home (check!), can further increase your risk of becoming a victim of cybercrime. And apparently, these privacy issues are serious enough that New York Senator Chuck Schumer has asked the Federal Trade Commission to develop privacy guidelines for Facebook.
Now, you may say “Well duh, Bruno…those are obvious steps to protect yourself,” but I’m not the only one — a vast majority of my 200 Facebook friends also share that kind of information, if not more. (A CR survey found that 7 percent of Facebook users went so far as to share their street address in their profile!) So yes, now that I’m wiser, I’ll remove my birth date, stop using my kids’ names in photo captions, and stop alluding to being on vacation. But frankly, I’m creeped out, and even after taking those steps, I’m not sure I feel safe using Facebook any more — it’s certainly a lot less fun now that I’m worried about everything I do or say. And none of this speaks to the fact that I really don’t fully understand all the implications of the geeks’ concerns over these new features they’ve rolled out (“Instant Personalization,” etc.).
So yeah, I’m having second thoughts about Facebook, and yeah, I’m certainly not the only one. I look forward to hearing what comes out of today’s meeting, but I’m also suddenly curious about this new social network Diaspora, which allegedly bypasses a lot of the privacy violations Facebook is being blamed for. Or better yet, maybe I’ll just stay away before I learn that it too has put me at risk.
What about you, PopWatchers? Anyone else suddenly creeped out by these privacy issues? Who’s already deleted their account?