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    Facebook Has a Problem with Trust

    by Mark Glaser
    January 28, 2008

    i-049e9605250f01887d2030725aa2193d-Facebook privacy.jpg
    In the not-too-distant past, I remember fondly getting an email notification from Facebook that one of my friends had sent me a message or “poked” me virtually. I happily clicked over to Facebook to see what someone had said or done, and responded in kind. Now, my reaction to getting the same kinds of notifications has changed, and I dread clicking through to see what kind of spam or scam is coming my way.

    First, there were the messages from business colleagues, saying I should load an application to find out who my “secret crush” was. It seemed like a throwback to high school, and then I found out that this application actually loaded adware onto unsuspecting people’s computers. Then I started to get messages from people I didn’t know who were inviting me to check out their profiles on other sites — a kind of spam to promote other services. Then people started mass-mailing videos or “pass forward” Fun Wall messages that ended up being scams.

    Not much has changed in the online world of spam and scams, it’s just that the scammers have found new venues for their malicious games. But the bigger problem is for Facebook, once a closed network that you could trust that is, day by day, losing trust with its members. When I asked MediaShift readers if they trusted Facebook, no one stood up for the service without reservations. And a Technorati search for “do you trust facebook” brought up various bloggers who had inactivated their accounts or were upset with possible privacy concerns at the burgeoning social network.

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    The one caveat with this type of unscientific polling is that the people who do trust Facebook probably wouldn’t bother writing a blog post entitled, “Why I Trust Facebook.” In these circumstances, it’s more common to hear from people who are upset and disgruntled and not hear a peep from those that are satisfied.

    But still, what’s most distressing for Facebook is that they seem to be losing some of the magic that led everyone to use the service in the first place. Here’s a quick rundown on some reasons that people say they are fed up with the service:

    > “I started getting all of this spam from people I did not know at all…Further, I was getting leery of my high school (private school alum) and law school running after me for money.” — Jennifer

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    > “I had set up a couple of Facebook groups as a way to communicate with members of a PTA committee and also for a non-profit student group. With the Beacon issue being what I perceived as a major flip in privacy policy, I couldn’t in good conscience, maintain those groups in Facebook. I notified my subscribers, rolled up the groups and left Facebook.” — Greg

    > “With email, I own the data, which is not the case on Facebook. If I get kicked out from Facebook, I’ll still have my email archives, but will lose access to everything that Facebook had about me.” — Tristan Nitot, founder of Mozilla Europe, explaining on his blog why he doesn’t want people to message him through Facebook

    > “The whole Beacon incident has made me realize that I can’t trust Facebook to the same degree that I trust Google.” — software developer Vlod Kalicun

    There was also a thread of resignation to the fact that everything we do online compromises our privacy so there’s not much we can do about it if we want to live in this world. Graham MacDougall put it this way:

    I really don’t trust companies storing this kind of personal information. However, Gmail has access to way more personal information about me than Facebook or others, so perhaps the Facebook argument is moot. It’s just yet another platform where our behaviors can be analyzed on the macro and micro levels to give more companies opportunities to market to us.

    Some Positive Signs

    I was surprised that many people had more nuanced takes on the privacy issues around Facebook. A few mentioned that they do read each site’s Terms of Service [TOS] before they give out personal information or they severely limit the amount of personal info they would share online.

    “I can’t really say that I don’t trust [Facebook], but then again, I do not have very much personal information placed on the site,” wrote Angela Michelle Smith. “What I think is pertinent for the average networker is to carefully read the TOS of Facebook or any other social network site in order to know without question exactly what they are signing themselves up for. That’s the best way to protect yourself, in my opinion.”

    Camille had a similar take on Facebook and giving out personal info online, saying that people had to educate themselves on what they were doing before acting.

    “If you want to use these accounts, well that’s fine. If you don’t want to, well that’s fine also,” she wrote. “All I’m going to say is that I personally don’t trust anything that is online…I just don’t put personal info on there. Life is too short to be afraid of the times that are changing. I say, face it with intelligence and caution if you decide to go this route.”

    Privacy advocate and web developer Paul Hyland wondered who he could trust at all online, and figured that his life already was an open book online and that the genie was already out of the bottle.

    “I think it’s important for people to understand the limitations of privacy online, and the potential threat of exposure or exploitation of your information, not only by those to whom you entrust it, but by third parties who gain access to it either through negligence or trickery, and then to be prepared to deal with the consequences,” he wrote. “I have to say that I’m encouraged by some recent developments, however. Facebook’s announcements recently have seemed a little more sophisticated in their acknowledgment of privacy concerns, and their recent membership in the DataPortability Workgroup is a positive sign.”

    Indeed. I also recently noticed that there’s a dedicated “Privacy” button in the upper right-hand portion of the Facebook site that leads through to an easy-to-use slider page that lets you adjust privacy settings on everything from pokes to search. Despite all the privacy complaints, Facebook still has the time and enough millions of rabid users to try to, uh, save face.

    What do you think? Do you trust or mistrust Facebook, and why? What privacy features could they add to earn back your trust? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Tagged: comments facebook security social networking
    • Leia

      I guess I never really bought in to the idea that Facebook was as great/private as people thought from the beginning. I use a version of my name that only close friends would know for sure was me, and I don’t encourage any contact/messaging that isn’t disposable. For me, Facebook is a toy, not a networking tool.

    • I’m an educator and web professional who eagerly took part in every new trend since the start of web2.0. And as a technology writer, I’ve received invites to some of these while they were in private beta.

      Unlike many people, I DO read privacy policies and TOS before I take part. I’ve also used every privacy setting available on Facebook and I’m still angered by their lack of user controls. As well, I have a pretty good sense of what the current technological capabilities are for any given system.

      That said, you don’t need to be an expert to know what’s wrong with Facebook. And I think users should demand better treatment. To this end, I’ve suggested users devise their own Terms of Service (inspired by The Users Bill of Rights) – if only to think about our value to services who greedily gobble up our user data but don’t give us the right to delete our content (e.g., Facebook currently requires the user to click each wall post shut – when they could easily implement a “select all” feature as they have for their fake email application).

      It’s time users thought about their own needs.

    • As an educator, web professional and early adopter of web2.0 tools and trends I read TOS and privacy policies and use every option available to me when setting up a new account. I’m also well aware of the current capacities and options available to developers of systems like Facebook. Given that knowledge, I still think they’re treating the user like dirt.

      And I don’t think you have to an expert on web history, precedents or capabilities to complain about it. And this is part of the problem: quite frankly, not nearly enough users are demanding better treatment.

      To that end, I’ve encouraged other users to think about their wants and needs in relation to available options they use every day in other services and then compare what Facebook, the largest SNS in history, has offered them. To ask, for example, why they can “select ALL” to delete Facebook messages but NOT wallposts, minifeed or posts. Clearly, Facebook knows our expectations for email settings but hopes we won’t ask for the same controls elsewhere.

      Another example is the politics/religion fields in your upper profile. Why give us an open field for religion and a limited drop down for politics? Funny that they include Libertarian (or, perhaps, not so funny, if you consider the fact that one of the three owners is a prominent Libertarian lobbyist)and not other equally established political traditions or registered parties. Seems to me, church and state here are of equal value where *choices* are concerned (isn’t that the very definition of Libertarian? Freedom? Civil liberties?).

      I think we need to think about our rights and also think about what we’re participating in and whose interests really inform our choices.

      That’s what it means to live in a democracy.

    • Guardian Angel

      I’ve noticed a lot of people do have there profiles set as private. The problem is that they all have the ‘view friends’ link active. It kind of defeats the purpose if you have friends who have public profiles.

    • Guardian Angel

      I’ve noticed a lot of people do have there profiles set as private. The problem is that they all have the ‘view friends’ link active. It kind of defeats the purpose if you have friends who have public profiles.

    • Guardian Angel

      I’ve noticed a lot of people do have there profiles set as private. The problem is that they all have the ‘view friends’ link active. It kind of defeats the purpose if you have friends who have public profiles.

    • Guardian Angel

      I’ve noticed a lot of people do have there profiles set as private. The problem is that they all have the ‘view friends’ link active. It kind of defeats the purpose if you have friends who have public profiles.

    • Guardian Angel

      I’ve noticed a lot of people do have there profiles set as private. The problem is that they all have the ‘view friends’ link active. It kind of defeats the purpose if you have friends who have public profiles.

    • There is a grassroots movement against Facebook with people erasing there profiles. The arguement is the considerable personal information Facebook gives away. I am new on Facebook and therefore rather neutral. It would be sad to see such a young and meteoric company take a large hit. Obviously face book must make some quick adjustments.

    • There is a grassroots movement against Facebook with people erasing there profiles. The arguement is the considerable personal information Facebook gives away. I am new on Facebook and therefore rather neutral. It would be sad to see such a young and meteoric company take a large hit. Obviously face book must make some quick adjustments.

    • Rebecca Nee

      Mark –
      I appreciate the heads up about Facebook; I haven’t ventured there yet. But I’m finding Linkedin is a great professional social networking site (especially among Boomers like me). A friend of mine who hires young people for a software company in SF says she checks the applicant’s Linkedin network before hiring them. I like the site because I found former co-workers and classmates easily. So far, it doesn’t seem to be corrupted by the Facebook issues you mentioned. I hope that’s not yet to come!
      Becky

    • Being a dumb consumer it never crossed my mind to trust or mistrust Facebook. But then I read about Beacon. And then I realised that I am playing in somebody else’s garden. Then I realised that social networking is just another link to friends. Then I realised that social networking is not about a new form of online democracy but simply an entertainment platform. Now this is all obvious to savants. problem is that it’s not marketed or hyped in this way. more on this at

      http://tinyurl.com/24qydv

    • Totally agree.. i dont even understand why facebook even generated so much hype when already orkut, myspace, linked in, and a dozen other networking sites where already present. I guess hypes are just hypes not based on reason

    • Sarolite

      In regards to why there was a hype over FaceBook, it’s because it’s better. Orkut and LinkedIn don’t have the mass appeal, and MySpace doesn’t have the features.

      Think back on every feature that MySpace has released in the past year or so, since the movie 300 sponsored their increase from 16 user pictures to 300 pictures, but they still didn’t have albums. Everything they’ve added has been to make them more like FaceBook.

      Personally, I love LinkedIn and FaceBook a very close second, but people I now simply don’t (and wouldn’t) use LinkedIn, or Orkut, or any of these other niche sites.

      I don’t see myself leaving any of these sites any time soon. I ignore most app invites on FaceBook, and those that I do accept are only as mutilated versions of themselves- I un-check almost everything. The only apps that have boxes on my profile are the ones I want you to see: things like a screenshot/link to my blog, a screenshot/link to my MySpace, an interractive Geni.com mini-tree, and a list of my Flickr albums with their album covers.

      I’m pleased with the amount of control that I have over things at FaceBook. People who clutter up their profiles with spyware apps probably should learn their lesson from that and stop accepting things they can’t trust.

    • Thanks for the quote. I had forgotten I’d written that, but having worked in marketing and keeping regular tabs on what the industry is doing – it looks like Facebook and other platforms are naturally going to develop behavioral and affinity-based marketing tactics. It’s only normal because we’ve never made this level of detail available in such an expansive and accessible way before.

    • RB

      I whole-heartedly agree with Leia that these social entertainment sites are toys, not tools. The problem is that they can be a very dangerous toy, far worse than any BB gun. Signing up for Facebook, MySpace, and many of these “social networking sites” is an awful idea for anybody in this day and age, but especially for teenagers. There are many, many security risks. The worst scenario is that an enemy (of whatever nature, including teen rival or jealousy, gang members, sexual predators, id thefts, potential kidnappers, etc) can use these websites, or a combination of these websites, to locate just about any member’s physical location or other personal information in a matter of hours or sooner. Just because your address might not be listed means very little. These sites are obviously popular now, but fads pass quickly. The smart idea would be to delete any and all profiles from these types of sites.

    • It appears I’m alone!

      I LOVE Facebook. I am a mature professional with teenage kids. We all use it daily and have not had any issues with spyware or spam, no cyberbullying, and no uninvited solicitations. I did a cursory glance at the TOS when signing up. I love the privacy/public features it provides, I love the social networking and I love the new apps (maybe not all of them, but I have the choice not partake). Until something goes awry within my circle of friends, I will always encourage people to join and stay in touch!
      It appears I’m just a happy schmuck!

    • karen joycajilo

      i love facebook…its so cool…i really trust them..

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