Friday, May 14, 2010

Thoughts on the Facebook privacy outrage

Many are expressing a lot of angst about Facebook's privacy policy changes over the recent months. Here's some essential reading on the subject:

Matt McKeon has done an awesome bit of data-viz porn on the subject to help folks grok how FB's policy has changed over time. You can go play with it here. (As a bonus, Paul L pointed out to me how Matt's released source to the app to do this). Here's a snapshot:

If the above gives you the 5-second dump on what's changed, then the incomparable Danah Boyd's lengthy post on the subject will then let you simmer on the implications. Danah is one of the smartest people I know of looking at what SN's mean to people and how society is being shaped by them. Her post is essential reading for everyone. Period. So are a number of the posts she links to.

Talk of course has turned to whether there is an alternative to FB, and whether they've overplayed their hand. People are looking to alternatives and wondering whether someone can use this as an opportunity to topple the unstoppable giant*. A fave underdog in recent days is Diaspora, a Kickstartr-funded project that used the angst to raise $145k in 12 days (from >4000 people, 9 of which gave over $1k) - that's a lot of protest money.

*which is silly. How many times have we heard "no one can stop the unstoppable (yahoo, GM, Microsoft, Everquest, Genghis Khan, etc)"?

The idea of an alternative with more user-centric privacy controls is interesting, as is the idea of a distributed network like Diaspora's attempting.

My own opinion is that if people really start leaving FB in droves, or if regulators start getting heavy-handed (Danah points out that they are sniffing around), then FB can choose to dial back their policies. They'll be OK on this front if they do so soon enough.

It won't matter though. I still believe that FB is going to collapse under their own weight - and by that I mean the narrow, limited way in which they link people, and the band-aid solutions they have to add on to try and work around this. As I've pointed out at length before, the problem is that Facebook doesn't understand the difference between an adjective and a noun.