Online Privacy and the Death of Facebook

social media makes the world go round

As the outcry over Facebook’s  privacy policies continues to gain momentum, the reality that personal information is tradable commodity has come into sharp relief. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of a Brave New Internet is causing many to re-evaluate the hidden costs of ‘free’ social media tools.

The growing disquiet over Facebook privacy is a timely reminder to the average internet user that ‘online privacy’ is something of an oxymoron.

New Zealand has joined the call for better privacy controls. NZ Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff:
“If I had only one tip to give to people, it is to realise that when you’re putting information on social networking sites, you’re publishing that information to the whole world, and that it’s there for ever.”

This of course applies to a range of online services including the ever popular Youtube. However, given the apparent disdain with which Zuckerberg held the privacy of Facebook users in its early days it is unsurprising that the “kill your Facebook Page” backlash is growing.

And while some rightfully point out that you put all your Facebook data there in the first place, there are compelling reasons why more and more intelligent people are leaving the service.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s declaration earlier this year that the age of privacy is over raised eyebrows and revealed some serious misjudgement regarding the expectations people have when it comes to online services like Facebook.

FB is reigning King of social media so it seems unlikely that a mass exodus will occur in the short term. Particularly as many will carry on oblivious to these issues. Some are leaving however. If you’re concerned with privacy and the accountability of those who hold your personal information, there are some things you can do.

Firstly when it comes to all digital media – resist the illusion of privacy. Take your Mum’s advice and don’t trust strangers. The Internet is something of a paradox; unprecedented freedom of expression and connectedness but with that, the potential for Orwellian style surveillance and control.

Information is power and you may have noticed a human weakness in that area, especially when it translates into dollars. As the divide between the online and real worlds diminishes this is an important lesson to take to heart now.

Secondly, take charge of your Facebook privacy controls. It may take some time but it is well worth it. Facebook has pledged to roll out new simplified privacy controls. So it pays to stay informed and proactive.

Finally, think before you share information online. Once it’s there it may be there for good, somewhere. Free speech is a wonderful thing, but words are powerful and permanent. Many have lived to regret an unguarded outburst broadcast to the world and now permanently enshrined in the Annals of Stupid.

Given the ever changing nature of the social media landscape, the future of Facebook is not set in stone.

Are these the beginnings of the end? It seems difficult to imagine. Facebook continues to attract around 20 million new users a month. But people are fickle. Remember Bebo? How FB navigates through this current crisis of trust will have a bearing on, if not determine its long-term future.

More Reading:

MySpace returns with privacy pitch

How to Stop Worrying About Privacy and Love Facebook

Is Quit Facebook Day a Bust?

Five reasons I’m NOT quitting Facebook

The Facebook Blog: Hear it from the horse’s mouth

This post was last updated 13 June 2010

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