Dear Facebook & Google: We Are Not Your Pawns – Enough With The Auto Opt-In!

Over the past few months, both Facebook and Google had followed an alarming trend of opting people into things rather than letting them chose themselves. Fair to say, I’ve had enough of all that. I don’t think I’m alone.

Let’s recap:

Google’s Personalized Results: The “New Normal” That Deserves Extraordinary Attention covers how last December, Google made a sweeping change to personalize everyone’s search results without asking them first, without them having to be logged in, and spreading the news in a blog post quietly made on a Friday afternoon Pacific time.

Now Is It Facebook’s Microsoft Moment? covers how in December, Facebook asked people to “update” their privacy settings but really ended up making some formerly private information public. See also Facebook’s Privacy Upgrade Recommends I Be Less Private.

Google Buzz Rechecks Privacy Settings covers just some of the fallout from when Google, in its chase after Facebook, rolled out Google Buzz tied to Gmail accounts without enough thought or protection to keep some “private” contacts from being made public.

Facebook Instant Personalization over at Techmeme is a round-up of stories emerging from how people are concerned that Facebook’s new partnerships with some sites will pass along some of their personal information without asking them first. Instead, Facebook users are simply opted-in to the new program. Protect Your Privacy Opt Out of Facebook’s New Instant Personalization – Yes You Have to Opt Out is a very good illustration of the same alarming message I got on this yesterday.

Pick any of these events, and either company will tell you how the move was made in the best interest of users, how the scare stories out there aren’t as bad as they sound, and how users are in complete control.

Newsflash. When you have to explain things over and over again, answering each new “What if..?” or “I heard…” that comes up, you’re not reassuring anyone. You’re freaking them out more. And it’s a sure sign there’s something wrong with your product.

Your product should speak clearly for itself. I shouldn’t have to dive into complicated settings that give the fiction of privacy control but don’t, since they’re so hard to understand that they’re ignored. I shouldn’t need a flowchart to understand what friends of friends of friends can share with others. Things should be naturally clear and easy for me.

I’ll have more to say on some of these things in the future, but I wanted to jot the core issue down right now. Enough is enough. Get it together. Sharing isn’t bad. Sharing can be useful, as can personalization. But right now, I think a lot of people feel like we’re pawns in the game between Google and Facebook for web domination. Neither’s going to dominate the web. Neither needs to rush madly into things to get ahead. And both need to remember we’re not pawns, not even users but instead flesh-and-blood human beings that need to be treated better.