Want privacy? Get the hell off Facebook.

I almost never use Facebook. I never actually use Facebook for anything meaningful. The reason? As much as online privacy is a myth, Facebook doesn’t even pretend to pay attention. It changes settings on the fly and expects users to adjust accordingly, it makes settings that were previously private significantly less so, and most recently, its software allows for messages that used to be private to no longer be. Of course, Facebook denies that such a problem exists, but enough people are having that problem that it’s actually come to the attention of government officials. Oh, and more than one site has instructions for fixing the problem Facebook says doesn’t exist.

And yet, everything’s fine in Facebookland. Translation: If you expect or even want privacy of any kind, Facebook is not the answer. I’d actually consider deactivating my account over this, but the truth is, I personally don’t log in often enough to actually care. You might. If you do, or if you just want to cover your ass, here’s how to deactivate your account. Now hopefully they haven’t broken that too.

That personal data you just handed to Facebook? Trade secret!

I absolutely love Techdirt. Mostly, because they’re usually the first ones to break a story that, well, could really use a bit more exposure. Like this one, in which an advocacy group based in Europe is trying to find out what Facebook holds of your personal information, and what they do with it. Except, well, Facebook isn’t cooperating.

The group’s founder, Max Schrems, received a reply to his request for the data Facebook held about him in the form of a CD-ROM storing over 800 pages. But
looking through them, Schrems noticed that important information was missing, and so contacted Facebook again, asking for the extra details. But
Facebook refused

And why, pray tell, would Facebook do such a thing? Well, Facebook was asked.

To date, we have disclosed all personal data to which you are entitled pursuant to Section 4 of the Irish Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 (the Acts).
Please note that certain categories of personal data are exempted from subject access requests. Pursuant to Section 4(9) of the Acts, personal data which
is impossible to furnish or which can only be furnished after disproportionate effort is exempt from the scope of a subject access request. We have not
furnished personal data which cannot be extracted from our platform in the absence of disproportionate effort.
Section 4(12) of the Acts carves out an exception to subject access requests where the disclosures in response would adversely affect trade secrets or intellectual
property. We have not provided any information to you which is a trade secret or intellectual property of Facebook Ireland Limited or its licensors.

So, basicly, Facebook will give you any and all information you ask it to, about you–except that which is covered by intelectual property–read: copyright–laws or which is considered a trade secret. So much for personal information being, well, personal, hmm? And folks wonder why I have such an opinion on internet privacy.

Email is dead. Unless you don’t use Facebook. But then you don’t care.

Every so often, something will come along that threatens to kill email. And nearly as often, that ends up dying instead. And now, as of yesterday, Facebook has its own answer to email–and it’s even being advertised as something to give Gmail, Microsoft etc a run for their money. Before you start thinking that sounds vaguely familiar, read this.

Google tried its own email killer, only it was also supposed to take out Facebook. It fell over dead. Now, Facebook’s coming out with its own supposed email killer, aiming at Google–among others. Just one problem. Nearly as many people don’t use Facebook as didn’t use Google Wave. And at the moment, it’s not looking a whole lot like their new messaging platform is going to do entirely too much to draw in more usage. So I have to wonder if email will only be dead if you’re on facebook and/or care enough to switch. Since I don’t, and since my resistance of the service is kind of still there, I’m going out on a limb and making a prediction. Email is dead. Unless you’re not on Facebook. But then you probably don’t care.

dear Facebook. I’m not a hacker, just blind.

I was going through Facebook on Jess’s behalf earlier, seeing as her machine would probably die if she tried to use it over there and well, I was here doing other things anyway. Apparently, they have this new security feature put in place–if one can call it a security feature. Apparently, if you’ve not logged in to your account on that computer, you get to jump through a series of convoluted hoops just to get to the point of saying “by the way, yes, I own this account”. One such hoop involved identifying people who were tagged in a specific set of photos. Not a problem if you spend all your time on Facebook, or can see, but a right proper pain in the royal ass for folks who don’t or can’t.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t give you–or doesn’t make readily apparent, anyway–an option to bypass this supposed ID varification check when you’re logging in from a new computer. Which means we got to spend an hour sitting here while she, being the most sighted one of us at an impressive not very, squinted at the photos presented and tried–usually with absolutely no verifiable results–to identify/recognise folks being shown to us. With no way to bypass it and try something else, and a need to wait an hour or so for it to let us get in again, we eventually just decided to say to hell with it. Fortunately, after we managed to get done what needed doing.

Now, I get the whole security thing re: trying to make sure folks are authorised to actually have access to the account. But folks, we’re either totally or nearly totally blind over here. You’re showing us pictures. What in the hell are we supposed to do with them? And, just for the record, I was perfectly authorised to access the account in question–just not authorised according to Facebook. Meanwhile there’s enough of a back door that I could actually do what needed doing without being authorised according to Facebook, thus rendering whatever security checks they were trying to have, um, rather pathetically useless.

Hey, Facebook? I’m not a hacker, honest. I’m just blind. Thank God, really–you didn’t exactly make it difficult. Just irritatingly inconvenient. And I’d still like to know the logic behind flashing random photos for folks to stare at, like they’re gonna remember most of them. I don’t even remember half the things I’ve probably been caught on camera doing and I’ve been accused of having a good memory. So. yes. Please, stop failing. It’s bad for you.

Also: Accessibility? What accessibility? On Facebook? Surely, you Gest. Devs, design smarts. Get you some. It should not take me guessing to change a semi-simple setting. Only you would think otherwise. Again, stop failing. It’s bad for you.

Please tell me Facebook doesn’t want to play fortune teller.

Excluding the hundred billion privacy issues they’re dealing with, now Facebook takes interpersonal guessing games to a whole new level. Apparently, its CEO has decided to perform his own little experiments and see if he can predict who folks would end up in a relationship with based on their Facebook interactions. Now, temporarily excusing the fact the last thing we need is another freaking match making site, he seems quite impressed with a 33% accuracy so far. I’ll restrain myself from pointing out he would have never predicted Jessica and I, for the simple fact of both of us barely use Facebook and she only joined after we’d started dating. But, good try, Zuckerberg. Might I suggest just buying out EHarmony, instead?

I think I might have just found a decent use for AIM.

I very rarely, meaning almost never, use AOL’s instant messaging client, in spite of the fact it’s been sitting on my computer for the better part of a year. Probably longer than that. Mostly because, well, all the cool people use MSN. Except my family, apparently. In their defense, though, they are at least on Facebook–of course, that’s exactly where I rarely am.

Fortunately, for me anyway, I now-well, eventually anyway-will have even less of a reason to bother with the service. And more of a reason to stick with AIM. The next version of the program, which will hopefully be equally as stable, if not more so, as its current version, will supposedly include the ability to chat with people on Facebook via the AIM client. No, I’m not an overly huge fan of AOL–I’d of preferred it be MSN, but I’m not an overly huge fan of the Facebook website either. And since I still only go on there to play Mafia Wars, and I don’t even do that very often, I’ll take it. Who knows? Maybe MSN will do the same. Hey, one can dream.

The internet is not private. Live with it.

Not that it should really be a surprise to anyone, but apparently it is. Facebook made some pretty significant-sounding changes to their privacy settings about a month ago, further highlighting why it is I go through phases of avoiding the site. Michael Arrington, over at Tech Crunch, puts it pretty much in perspective. His message, more or less: chill out already. And, quite simply, it’s a message I happen to agree with, for reasons not too dissimilar from those mentioned in the post. The most obvious of those reasons though hasn’t been quite blatantly enough stated yet, so I’ll just go right ahead and do that.

Privacy, especially on the internet, is pretty much a myth. That goes for blogging sites, social networking sites, emails, you name it. If it’s been sent to the internet, by you or by someone else, you might as well consider it no longer private. And the same holds true for Facebook, even before it made those changes to privacy settings that resulted in things being slightly more public than before. So this concept of there having been any real means of security online is a little misguided. A non-Facebook example, but an example that could just as easily have applied to Facebook, will help the explanation.

LiveJournal has an option to restrict the contents of your hosted blog to only select people, authorized by you, to read. Now, ignoring whether or not I agree with their method for determining exactly how folks are authorized to read your content, this was their version of semi-privacy–it’s not immediately search engine accessible, but people you know or want to get to know still have access to read, comment, and otherwise do what they will with your restricted content. Including pass it off to someone who didn’t originally have access to the said restricted content. Or copy it from your own, restricted blog, and post it elsewhere–likely where a search engine or other curious individuals can easily get their hands on it. There just went that sense of privacy. It’s the same way with email. You may be sending an email back and forth to one person, expecting them to keep it between the two of you. But who’s to say they’re not adding an address to the BCC field? Or forwarding the email to someone else? And if the conversation happens to be taking place on a mailing list, pretty good chance it’s being archived–which probably means it’s now searchable by non-members.

Back to Facebook for a slightly more relevant example. You’re at a party, and a less than flattering picture of you is taken. Not something you’d post to Facebook, but something that you’d probably laugh about with a few of the people who were at that party. The person who snapped the picture, though? He has no problem posting it to Facebook. And the next morning, he does just that. Now, you and those select few people who might have been at the party can still laugh at the picture. But so can everyone who happens to be “friends” with the person who posted the picture. Not all of which you may actually know–or, for that matter, want to be able to see the picture. Again, there just went that sense of privacy.

In that respect, and keeping that in mind, Facebook’s privacy changes don’t really amount to a whole hell of a lot of actual news. The rules of the game don’t change–just the default settings. You still really have no more or less security now than you did a month ago. And the same old advice applies just as much now as it did 6 months ago. If you don’t want it to go public, don’t give it to the internet. That includes Facebook. Don’t decide to just throw it up there and then whine when someone you wanted to keep it away from just so happens to see it. If you didn’t want it seen by an undetermined amount of people, you wouldn’t have posted it to a place where it could be seen by an undetermined amount of people. And if you did so in spite of you’re not wanting to, then I dare say it’s your own fault, and hardly the fault of whatever system or service you happened to be using at the time. The internet is by no means a private place, whether you’re on Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, MySpace, whichever. Get used to it.

My Facebook MySpace resistance.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I practically live on Twitter, even if I don’t actually do a whole lot in the way of actually, you know, posting to the thing. Still, I make regular use of it to follow certain companies online, as well as keep up with folks–some of whom might actually read this thing at some point.

But, for all its similarities, I find myself going through phases on Facebook. I’ll play around on it for a month or two, then get bored with it and move onto something else–right now, I’m at the bored with it phase. Even though you can do exactly the same thing with that that you can do with Twitter, and then some. I haven’t the slightest clue why, but for whatever reason I can never manage to actually stay involved over there. My profile hasn’t gotten a whole lot of attention of late, and I have no clue if or when it will again. When I do get involved with it, it’s only to try and get back into playing Mafia Wars again–so I guess you could say my profile hasn’t gotten much attention in several months.

Compare that with MySpace, where I have absolutely no profile, no intention of ever getting a profile, and if it went offline at midnight tonight I probably wouldn’t notice. I did have a friend or two who swore by MySpace. Looking at their profiles for just 5 minutes, mostly because it was the only way to actually figure out what they were up to, was enough to make me seriously reconsider ever having anything to do with it. MySpace is a highschool type collection of overly animated profiles and, really, way too corny music. If I wanted that, I could dress the site up like that here without too much effort. There’s a reason I haven’t, though.

So, if you want to keep in touch with me, send me an email. Catch me on IM. Follow the blog, or Twitter. Or, slightly less likely to be updated, tap me on the shoulder on Facebook. My resistance to Facebook fades every so often. My resistance to MySpace? It’s an immunity. That works for me.