Facebook Privacy – Why No One Cares

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Facebook has made some concessions, but most of us are so addicted, it can pretty much do what it likes, says Peter Judge

Much as we may dislike Mark Zuckerberg, for his apparently cavalier attitude to the privacy of his customers, there are strong reasons why Facebook is unlikely to change much.

It is absolutely typical that Facebook should see its problem as “simplification”, and not anything more fundamental. It is also absolutely typical that, despite making a big fuss online (which obviously included a Facebook group) only a tiny percentage of Facebook users made the only practical protest they could – by quitting Facebook on 31 May, the so-called “Quit Facebook Day”.

The link between protection and privacy

The following day – today – is International Children’s Day, which makes an interesting juxtaposition given Facebook’s troubles on child protection. In that instance, we think the site may be quite justified in resisting the CEOP panic button which British politicians wanted to force on it. Given Facebook’s existing reporting labels and buttons, pushing it to add one more is really a kind of cyber-bullying, that is more about exposure for CEOP than child protection.

Of course, the majority of children have other things to worry about – including exploitation, overwork and levels of poverty which mean millions of them don’t have shoes. In passing, let’s remember to get that in perspective.

But for the IT world, there’s a connection between privacy and child protection, and Facebook needs to go further on this one. The site won’t accept users unless they at least claim to be over thirteen, and while they are minors limits their connections and visibility.

Above those ages though, sharing happens. Any parent whose child is actually prepared to befriend them on the site will have seen photos from their child’s friends’ pages, either because they don’t know who can see them, or because they don’t understand how to limit the visibility, or because they genuinely (as Zuckerberg famously said) have a different standard of privacy these days.

The Facebook addiction

In my view, use of Facebook and social networks can become a form of addiction – consider the way people expressed a decision to “give them up” for Lent earlier this year. On that basis, Facebook’s privacy changes and the discussion about the CEOP button, are similar to arguments over what sort of health warning should be on a packet of cigarettes, or a bottle of vodka.

The difference, of course, is that unlike booze and fags, Facebook and similar social networks look like being essential parts of life – the places where more and more of us will find our work and develop our opinions. Businesses are worried about them, sure, but they are also pretty clear that they need to use them.

It used to be a truism amongst security officers that, unless users are complaining that you are making their lives difficult, you are not doing your job. Simply put, users won’t be aware of security unless there is something for them to notice. A locked door should need a key, or you won’t notice when it is not locked.

Facebook takes the opposite view – let’s keep it simple, try and persuade people to trust us to do the right thing on their behalf, they they will get on with doing the things that make us money.

That simply won’t ever be good enough. There are some signs that young people are becoming more aware of privacy and businesses are too.

Let’s hope that trend increases.

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