Friday, May 14, 2010

Is Facebook Worth the Risk?

I'm still processing a semi-popular uprising against Facebook as privacy advocates continue to profess shock that the social networking site is using information about user-habits to make money, and even worse, doing so in ways that users can't control. I suppose my confusion about all this consternation stems from the fact that I try not to post anything on the site that I wouldn't cheerfully see on the front page of the New York Times. And while I am fairly vigilant about updating my privacy settings, I have largely abandoned hope in safeguarding all my info from prying eyes.

Perhaps I've been too easily indoctrinated into the electronic panopticon. With each loyalty card I use, each internet transaction I engage, each time I participate in another geo-tagged activity, more of my data is sucked into the infosphere - often for purposes I cannot anticipate or influence. Bit by bit I measure the risks that my data will be used to harm me against the rewards I receive from this kind of accessibility. So far, at least for now, the rewards outweigh the costs.

But not for everyone.

A friend and colleague, Mansi Bhatia, has signed off from Facebook for the last time. In her wake, she's left a vocal lot of friends complaining that her posts - often head-scratching questions about personal proclivities or ethical dilemmas - will be missed. I share that sentiment. But Mansi is pulling up stakes and shifting her profile to a personal blog, which she hopes will foster more security and control over her brand.

As I mentioned yesterday, blogs such as hers (and Zaki Hasan's) have inspired me to redesign my own personal site. Yet what led me to her blog most recently was her news about exiting Facebook. Only now I'm taking a moment to think about the broader message conveyed by Mansi's decision. Her post, entitled Bye bye, Facebook, lays out a thoughtful argument for why she left the social networking site for which she was once a passionate evangelist.

In summary, Mansi states that Facebook, despite is supposed ease of use, is a time-suck that demands a heavy price in personal security: "The perceived ease is a sham. Maintaining all those 'friendships' is becoming more and more onerous. And the new privacy settings just don’t allow me to feel in control anymore."

Reflecting on her claims, I find myself still believing that Facebook is a net positive. I enjoy the flow of information - sometimes relevant, sometimes not - about a wide range of acquaintances, and I believe I am more wired into the lives of my friends than I would be otherwise, especially these days when scheduling a shared cup of coffee can overwhelm our day planners.

Still, like Mansi, I prefer face-to-face interaction to virtual variants. As I noted during my recent speech in Denver, "being there" can't be easily replicated by a social networking site; the experience is always about place. Technology conveys us to a sense of locale, but it cannot replace it. So I use Facebook to augment the places of my life, not to avoid them.

For this reason, as well as the concern that Facebook may become something far more troubling than a cacophony of Farmville updates, I must consider the voices of folks who are fleeing Facebook for presumably safer climes. Mansi has something to say that is worth exploring further. Of course, while she wrote a fine post on the topic, she'd be the first to add: the best way to learn more is to talk to her yourself.

Read the entire piece: Bye bye, Facebook


Mansi said...

Thanks, Andy. I’m glad my action has sparked a conversation. As I said in my blog post, it’s not for everyone. And most people who are used to the ease of keeping up to date with their friends via Facebook will find it really hard to call it quits, but it is at least worth a second thought. Appreciate your analysis and I hope our schedules can allow us to meet over coffee someday soon.

Marilyn said...

Having read both Mansi's and this post...I believe firmly in the need to have this discussion...

What I believe this is exposing is NOT just FB, but MANY social networking practices of collecting and SELLING data. FB may not be doing this directly, but through applications and games and surveys that seem to entertain the user...but in order to participate, the user gives them carte blanche entree into their lives...and sometimes into the profiles of their other friends. Viruses and malicious logic is spread this way as well.

Privacy. Americans often don't realize that privacy is perceived far differently than say in Europe, or in other cultures. The term 'freedom' is freedom for yourself...and not just the freedom to say things about others to criticize and malign people, even the practice of elevating people to celebrity status.

We have been used to having wagging tongues in the states about others...but when those tongues wag about us...and someone can look at us...figure out a demography for a marketing plan...or use it to figure out where a population is politically...

We are studied and segmented and we are aware NOW how these social sites are used by HR firms to hire and fire people. People are worried about everything, appearance...and because of these fear factors we really have our lives invaded in the name of safety. "Wait a minute! I am not a TERRORIST!" Comes out o the mouths of so many now...that HAD no idea what we signed up for in the BUSH administration...

Wake up...these eroding freedoms have been slow-rolled. You see it through the networks.

SO you have a choice. For some you may have to remove a lot of things to stay in the FB society OR any other Social Network society you choose.

DO you care who sees your info? Should you? Only you can answer those questions, but when it gets to a point you are AFRAID about what is said or what you have to ask why it is so important to you.

I hope I see a lot of debate, discussion, and examination...because it isn't just is everything we do and share on the internet...down to the emails we write. What is privacy if everyone is watching...including your much do you let them into your lives?

detroit dog said...

Interesting posts.

I finally joined FB last year after my sisters' repeated harassment! :-)

I like FB precisely because it is a one-stop-shop. It's great for keeping up on family and passing news along, finding out about art exhibits and where/when friends are gigging, etc. My "privacy" settings are pretty well set, and I don't use apps, but I'd never post anything anyway that I wouldn't mind anyone knowing about (those thoughts and conversations remain one-on-one).

It is what it is, and that's fine with me.