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Why Facebook Is Like Your Crazy Ex
By: Brett Moneta
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A few days ago, Talent Zoo’s Miranda Miller posted a great article about why we should call BS on Facebook’s response to a recent post by a hacker called Nik Cubrilovic. Our buddy Nik offered some interesting information: Facebook is stealing sucking in data from us users.
 
Miranda warned us, but we probably won’t listen. It's a complex relationship. She wouldn't understand.

Facebook loves us. They've said so. Sure, we know they collect and do something with all of this data we share with our friends. We just ignore it because everyone else does. So what’s the big deal?"
 
The big deal is that these computers were using software people had downloaded to their PCs to collect information that wasn’t on Facebook. In fact, these computers weren’t even logged on. Frankly, that’s the kind of thing we used to blame Bill Gates and Microsoft for.  

And how did Facebook respond? Frighteningly...EXACTLY LIKE that crazy ex-girlfriend or boyfriend many of us have had. You know the one.
 
In the Wall Street Journal, they admitted it. Then they defended it, saying that they used the information to help authenticate users and that they’re planning on changing the policy “sometime in the future.”
 
Sure, we did it. In fact, we still do it. But it’s cool. We’re not gonna do anything with it. Trust us. Again, there’s that crazy ex, saying “I’ll change…” with no deadline and no consequences.
 
Miranda’s effort was a valiant one. She told us all to get out of this relationship or at least protect ourselves. But will we do it? Probably not.
 
You see, Miranda, like your friend with the crazy ex, our relationship with Facebook is much more dysfunctional than you might think. Because, before they were an ex, we just kept hanging around. After all, they’re fun at parties. They’re spontaneous. And they say they love us and would never hurt us.
 
But the fact remains that they’re crazy.  
 
Remember that ex? Everything would be fun for a while, but then they’d lie/cheat/steal again. You knew it was going to happen again, but you deluded yourself. The pattern didn't stop until you finally got wise and broke up. Usually that meant changing your email, phone number, address, or all three.
 
So it goes with Facebook. It has abused us all, a number of times, using our photos and posts without our knowledge; using personal information to take advantage of our vulnerabilities to products and services; and then telling us that they own everything about us, our posts, pictures, and personal information… forever. 
 
Why do they continue? Because they have no reason to change. You’re not breaking up with them. You’re getting more involved. Why should they stop? So, really, this latest snafu should really come as no surprise.
 
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this dysfunctional relationship we have with Facebook is so goofy, it’s starting to look like George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm.
 
Here’s a quick timeline of Facebook’s Privacy Policy, thanks to Kurt Opsahl with the Electronic Frontiers Foundation.
 
2005:
No personal information that you submit to The facebook will be available to any user of the website who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.
 
2006:
Our default privacy settings limit the information displayed in your profile to your school, your specified local area, and other reasonable community limitations that we tell you about.
 
2007:
Your name, school name, and profile picture thumbnail will be available in search results across the Facebook network unless you alter your privacy settings.
 
November 2009:
…Information set to “everyone” is publicly available information, may be accessed by everyone on the Internet (including people not logged into Facebook), is subject to indexing by third party search engines, may be associated with you outside of Facebook (such as when you visit other sites on the Internet), and may be imported and exported by us and others without privacy limitations. The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.
 
December 2009:
Certain categories of information such as your name, profile photo, list of friends, and pages you are a fan of, gender, geographic region, and networks you belong to are considered publicly available to everyone, including Facebook-enhanced applications, and therefore do not have privacy settings.
 
April 2010:
When you connect with an application or website it will have access to general Information about you. The term General Information includes you and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. . . .The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.” . . . Because it takes two to connect, your privacy settings only control who can see the connection on your profile page.
 
The defense rests. And that’s through only through last year. It’s like they’re telling us, subconsciously, not to trust them. But it gets worse.
 
How about that nifty new timeline? You can paint a picture of your whole life and hand it to Facebook on a silver platter. I mean, sure, they have everything since you joined, but why not fill in your ancestry, birth, and childhood?
 
The final straw may be its latest venture: frictionless sharing. On Facebook, it’s called the “ticker” and it shows what you’re doing even if it’s not on Facebook. If you’re watching Netflix or reading a specific article, it’s being recorded and reported.
 
Sounds like something the Chinese government might set up. But hey, it’s just our buddies at Facebook, right?
 
While I am a proponent of personal responsibility, many of their privacy policy agreements do remind us to check our settings and remove connections we’re not comfortable with. But the more we learn about it, the fewer reasons we have to trust Facebook at all.
 
So now what do we do? Go to the other Leviathan, Google+?
 
To be honest, I don’t know. But as soon as I finish this blog, I’m sure as heck going to recheck my Facebook settings. The second thing I’m going to do is curb my usage. Because, frankly, writing this piece has scared me silly.


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About the Author
Brett Moneta has been playing in the digital world since 1996. He’s worked for companies like AOL, Avenue A | Razorfish, and Omnicom, developing content strategy and consulting on usability for companies in IT, consumer electronics, retail, healthcare, energy, and more. You can follow his tweets and read his blog too. Find him online here.
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