Is Facebook’s Change Your Own Damn Fault?
It’s good to see people talking about Facebook’s dissolution of the privacy walls its members were accustomed to. With any active discussion you get disagreement, but I wasn’t ready to see sentiments suggesting that people deserve embarrassing exposure because they made the mistake of trusting Facebook, or any web service for that matter.
Chris Pirillo, long standing web citizen, really surprised me with this tweet today:
How to protect your privacy online. Step 1: STOP SHARING SHIT YOU DON’T WANT THE WORLD TO DISCOVER. Step 2: See Step 1.
Is this where we’re at? That trust in the way a service behaves has no place on online? Chris isn’t the first person to express the sentiment that those feeling exposed are authors of their own misery. In performative terms, yes, they are the ones who posted compromising information. Or their friends did it for them thinking it wouldn’t be shared. But that guideline doesn’t cover that case. So let’s over-simplify it and pretend they posted everything themselves.
Since Chris put it as bluntly as I’ve seen it, and I have a hard time believing he advocates blaming the victims, I’ll use his tweet as a springboard to explore that idea.
The heart of my beef is that Facebook established a level of privacy between members, then changed it without warning and made it hard for a lot of people to understand. It’s not that networks can’t leak things that we’d rather keep among friends or family, but I reject that we should agree to give up privacy, at random, in exchange for being online.
This online stuff can be kind of abstract, so how about some examples to show how this attitude plays out in contexts beyond Facebook:
- Example 1: DropBox allows you to share some folders with selected people. What if they change that and expose all your files to the people you shared something with, or just everything with everyone. Is that my fault?
Or let’s take it offline:
- Example 2: You and I have a conversation that you ask to keep private, and I agree. What if I change my mind, and share not only that conversation but all others we’ve ever had. Is that your fault?
Let’s not even bother with the obvious problems in the contexts of online banking or asking a doctor for advice from a remote location. By the logic of Chris’s tweet, and I am picking on him here, it’s your fault if your finances and medical problems are disclosed to the world, because you didn’t “See Step 1.”
But let’s take it even further. Food services are built on trust. I can walk into any number of restaurants, world-wide, and expect not to be poisoned. I place critical, existential trust in people I never meet every time I dine out. Can you imagine the tweet?
How to not get poisoned in restaurants. Step 1: STOP EATING FOOD YOU DIDN’T GROW AND MAKE YOURSELF. Step 2: See Step 1.
See? It’s your fault because you didn’t carry your Personal Food Tester kit to the pizzeria. Let’s take it one more step, and say that if I don’t know how to defend myself when walking down the street that anyone should be able to beat me up, because I naively trusted the social contract.
Wow! How did we get here from a silly little privacy change?
Because it’s not little. The web is becoming an essential part of daily life in the first world, and the same expectations of trust in a business and the expectation of responsible behaviour need to apply if that is to succeed. Otherwise we’ll have a machine on our hands that burns anyone who doesn’t handle it from a default position of paranoid distrust, and a mob of Browncoats who are there to blame them for not knowing better.
Does that sound like the web we want to live with? Not to me.