By Frank Moher
As those of you with way too little to worry about may know, May 31st is Quit Facebook Day. This is a Canadian initiative, once again proving that, while we of the North may not have the entrepreneurial mojo to create much, we sure know how to get all indignant once somebody else has.
The latest Hate on Facebook campaign (following on the “Dang, They Changed the Way it Looks” and the “Dang, They Changed the Way it Looks Again” campaigns) was prompted by news that the company has partnered with three other sites in a customization experiment. On yelp.com, pandora.com, and docs.com, you will henceforth be informed that the site is using public information from your facebook page to personalize your experience. If you don’t like that, you can click a link to opt out. That’s it. That’s what has caused a hue and cry in the geek community, though it has yet to spread very far in the common-sense community.
Now, the fact is that, as a Canadian, you would have to work very, very hard at this point to breach your own privacy on these sites. Pandora is not even accessible from Canada, and yelp — evidently spooked by the controversy — has turned off the personalization feature, making only vague noises about its return “in the future.” That leaves docs.com (Microsoft’s version of Google Docs), which apparently intends to let you embed Word files, spreadsheets, etc., in your facebook feed. Actually, that sounds kind of useful.
But even if docs.com were attempting to suck huge chunks of information out of my facebook account for the personal gratification of Steve Ballmer, it wouldn’t get very far. First of all, note that it can only access information which has been made public; if I’ve chosen to hide my interest in toe-sucking from all but my friends, docs.com will be none the wiser. And I don’t put a lot of personal information on facebook anyway. Why? Because I am not an idiot; if I want to keep something private, I don’t do it by putting it on the internet.
Some argue that unsophisticated users have no idea what they are and aren’t sharing publicly, nor how to control that. Which is true, and which means that what we have here is a teaching moment. Teach your daughter or your Uncle Ted how to use the privacy settings — they’re not nearly as complicated as facebook hysterics make out, and Mark Zuckerberg has announced that they will be made yet simpler. And while you’re at it, try to convince Uncle Ted that the world doesn’t really give a crap about what movies he likes anyhow.
The greatest irony in the great facebook backlash is that a lot of the geeks who are leading it are proponents of Gmail — Google’s in-the-cloud e-mail service. That makes a lot of sense — fuss about whether or not yelp.com knows you like sushi while entrusting your private and business correspondence to a service which — believe it — can be accessed by government snoops without so much as a warrant. It makes you wonder who the real unsophisticated users are.