Facebook’s Creep Factor
It would be disheartening to watch Facebook’s radical dissolution of privacy walls and their reach into the rest of the web had there not been an outpouring of concern and criticism from many smart people. The best commentary I’ve read so far:
- Liz Gannes wrote an early but spot-on assessment of how Instant Personalization tries to force a new norm onto the web, where you can be known to any website so long as you’re signed into Facebook.
- Thomas Vanderwal captures the problematic situations that Facebook creates by steadily deprecating privacy.
- Sarah Perez at ReadWriteWeb, the site name I still can’t say quickly, writes about the strong-arm tenor in the privacy options transitioning interfaces.
There’s a lot to chew on with the moves that Facebook is making, but after seeing NewsFeed, Beacon and now the latest in F8, a pattern of behaviour emerges that I don’t think I can live with anymore:
- Establish a norm that people are comfortable with.
- Allow trust to be built on that norm
- Impose without warning a new set of rules that are advantageous to themselves alone.
- Architect the new reality as a labyrinth of vaguely worded options that must be absorbed and understood in real time, as the changes they refer to already happened.
- Wait until the audience reaches a point of comfortable non-awareness or total submission. Unless sponsors complain, like they did with Beacon.
Facebook isn’t the only company to deploy technological changes without warning or consideration of their impact on real lives. But, taking a line from Rush, they’re old enough to know what’s right and weak enough not to choose it.
What happened, Facebook? You used to put on such great parties: at your place we could hang out with the people around us and share in a way that was comfortable and carefree. Our mistake was believing that a respect for privacy, which you used to do well, was inherent to your character. Now we know better, but we still have to ask, what happened?
Ad or Die
What happened is one of the great cancers of the web: the belief that people will never pay for anything, and that the only way to make money is by becoming an ad market, re-dressing a community in the clothes of content-cultivating farmers.
Sadly, that approach will do to Facebook what it did to Google: turn them into a one-trick pony for revenue that displaces people at the centre of the user experience and treats the advertisement as the primary customer. It’s a boring business model made interesting only by how clever, if merciless, the technical innovations they invent to realize those goals.
In the end, I want the web to be what we make it, and can’t support the idea that it needs to ‘default to social’ because that’s what will enrich Facebook’s goals. By asserting that they will decide how the web works when it comes to social relationships, Facebook’s value finally does, for me, drop to zero. Contrast that with Apple, where they provide very little for free, find it easy to aggressively protect privacy, especially on the iPhone OS, and rake in billions.
So that’s where Facebook ends for me, and I’ll be closing my account in a couple weeks after I figure out a way to migrate people there to other channels. So long, Facebook. We had some good times, but you roofied my privacy at the last party, and we can’t go back from that.