Visualizing Privacy

>> Thursday, June 03, 2010

These visualizations are credited to Matt McKeon. If you go to his website, you can track the gradual shift in FB's privacy settings by year. These graphs are only updated through April (so far).

Of course FB has supposedly just made changes: if you're on FB, you may have clicked on the "Improved Privacy Controls" box in the last day or two to "read more." I gave it a click but as far as I can tell this is mostly greenwash. Presumably the information should make it easier to figure out how to change all your settings to where you want them to be, instead of where FB defaults them.

But let's not overstate the importance of the new changes: CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems not to get that a big piece of the issue is the default settings themselves. In fact, at the All Things Digital confab yesterday he clammed up when asked to explain his views on privacy:

According to multiple reports from bloggers, journalists and Twitterers, Facebook's CEO sidestepped questions about facebook privacy rather than giving the audience real, thoughtful answers.

"My God, Zuckerberg is literally dissolving in a lake of his own sweat," live-blogged John Paczkowski on the All Things Digital Web site. "He is visibly flushed, and you can see the beads of sweat rolling down his face. Could this be his Nixon moment?"

Dan Gillmor at Salon thinks the Nixon analogy is misplaced:

The Nixon comparison is, of course, a big stretch -- and it distracts from the much more serious issues.

For one thing, Zuckerberg's panic attack -- which is the most charitable explanation I can come up with -- raised more than a few questions about his fitness as CEO of one of the biggest companies on the Web and, increasingly, one of the most important companies on the planet.

The "he's young, give him a break" folks have half of that right. He's young, just 26 years old, and has the obvious smarts (and a solid senior team) to get his P.R. efforts in better shape. But give a break to someone who wields such influence? Not likely.

I agree with John Henry Clippinger, I think:

The issue is not with social media. Social media is great and here to stay. Moreover, when it goes mobile, it will only get more powerful and more useful. But it also could become easily Orwellian through the exploitation of personal information. It could become a means for total surveillance where the costs and impacts of today's breaches are a trifle by comparison. Think medical information, DNA, all financial and commercial transactions, what you do, where you are, and whom you talk to every minute of the day.

The problem is that information marketing companies should not be like some banks and the credit card companies that make money by tricking and trapping, obfuscation, and betting against their "customers" under the guise of acting in their interest. This is not to say that information marketing companies should not make money off of social media and customer data. They should. Indeed, by providing the proper safeguards, checks and balances, more money can be made off of sensitive data, because it will be trusted and more readily shared and relied upon.

What is needed is a kind of Glass Steagall Act for the collection, use, storage and sale of personal data, which prohibits those banks entrusted to safe guard commercial accounts from also trading in those accounts. Fortunately, the FTC, the White House, FCC, GSA, and DoD, and several credit service providers, telecom carriers, and others are showing more foresight in appreciating the importance of user control and the commercial value of trust and privacy than many financial service and social media companies. But even with their efforts, technology, the market and the money are moving faster than they are.


mpowell,  12:45 PM  

It's the magic of 'free' that creates this from happening. Dan Ariely talks about this in his book Predictably Irrational. Nobody is going to pay for a social web service if someone else is giving it away for free, even if the pay service is priced very reasonably. The downside is that the free service will be ripping off their customer base somehow to make money.

mpowell,  12:46 PM  

creates <-> prevents (doh!)

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