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Technically Geeking: (Lack of) Privacy on the Internet

Devolution of Facebook Privacy

Courtesy of Matt McKeon

There’s been a lot of concern in recent weeks about Facebook’s changing privacy policy. For example, the EFF has created this timeline to demonstrate how Facebook has decreased user control over personal information over the years. For a more visual representation of this devolution, check out this interactive graphic by Matt McKeon.

Basically, Facebook has set it up so that if you don’t change the privacy setting from default, they employ your Internet “self” as a marketing tool, and pay you nothing for the service. The question is, Do you care?

Chances are, if you do care, then you have already adjusted your Facebook settings so that your profile picture, birthday, education, relationship status, and all that other junk can only be viewed by “friends” or “friends of friends.” If this is the first you are hearing about it, and you do want to have some control over who sees what about you on the web, click here to edit your privacy controls.

Now, if your answer was “I don’t care,” and you’re still reading this, here’s why maybe you should care. Facebook pummeled Friendster and MySpace to become the uncontested champion of social networking, and everyone is hooked in nicely now. My dad’s on Facebook. But as with any empire that got too powerful too fast and too easily, Facebook wants more. CEO Mark Zuckerberg looked around the landscape of the web and said to his minions, “We have over 400 million users averaging 4 hours a day with us, what can we do with all this power?”

Well at the f8 conference last month, Zuckerberg announced the “Like” button going global. They believe they can change “links” into “Likes” and thereby route most Internet traffic through Facebook by way of these social links. It’s actually not a very original idea. You see the Digg, Reddit,, and google buzz links all over the blogs these days. But it’s not impossible to imagine Facebook “Likes” crushing them all into a tiny slice of the pie chart and totally pwning the situation.

So if their dreams come true and Likes become more important than links, what does that mean for your privacy? I’m not sure, but I think it means that you could be indirectly linked to stories and editorials about things that you disagree with, if only because one of your friends likes it. In one extremely paranoid scenario, you get put on a no-fly list because a libertarian buddy of yours “Liked” a story about anarchist in Bali. Are you sure you don’t want to edit your privacy controls?