Now Is It Facebook’s Microsoft Moment?

I came close to killing my Facebook account this week. As I delved even deeper to the supposed privacy I have or don’t have on the service, I wondered why on earth I even have an account at all. And I kept thinking of Anil Dash’s post earlier this year, Google’s Microsoft Moment. Was this now Facebook’s turn to for people to see it as having gone evil?

After I examined Facebook’s recommended unprivacy changes (see Facebook’s Privacy Upgrade Recommends I Be Less Private), I then read the EFF’s summary, Facebook’s New Privacy Changes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I was disturbed to discover things I previously had as options were no longer in my control. For instance:

Under the new regime, Facebook treats that information — along with your name, profile picture, current city, gender, networks, and the pages that you are a “fan” of — as “publicly available information” or “PAI.” Before, users were allowed to restrict access to much of that information. Now, however, those privacy options have been eliminated. For example, although you used to have the ability to prevent everyone but your friends from seeing your friends list, that old privacy setting — shown below — has now been removed completely from the privacy settings page.

Seriously, I can’t make who my friends are private? Well, today I can, because Facebook backtracked on that. And so now I have to backtrack and find where that setting is and check how it’s configured.

That, in turn, is exhausting. Back to my previous post, remember when Facebook asked me and others to reconsider our privacy settings with this page:

Facebook Privacy Settings

That gives the impression that if you make you decisions on the items listed, you’ve covered all the privacy issues you might have on Facebook.

Not so. Those aren’t my “privacy settings” as billed. Those are privacy settings just for my profile data. But if I go to the main privacy screen, I discover I’ve also got privacy settings for contact info, applications, search and a block list:

Facebook | Privacy Settings

Here I discover that everyone can see my web site:

Facebook | Privacy Settings

That’s cool, but when did I set this? And why didn’t Facebook prompt me to review that setting?

In another screen, I discover my friends can share my birthday. That’s my birthday that I tagged elsewhere as something to be shared with no one:

Facebook | Privacy Settings

In yet another screen, this one not even within the privacy area but instead as part of my account settings, I discover that ads on platform pages can be configured to show information to my friends:

Facebook | My Account ads

I don’t even know what that means. Honestly, I have no clue what ads on platform pages are. But I turned that option off.

I don’t have time for this. I don’t have time to try and figure out the myriad of ways that Facebook may or may not want to use my information. That’s why I almost shut down my entire account this week. It would be a hell of a lot easier than this mess.

See, I’m not a big Facebook user. No offense to Facebook, but most of what it offers just isn’t my thing. If I want to share pictures, I use Flickr. If I want to share videos, I use YouTube. If I want to connect with my friends, I have email or other methods. If I want to update the world with whatever’s on my mind, I use Twitter. Pretty much, I don’t need the Facebook “Office” suite of social sharing tools. I know Facebook is great for many people. I hear that first hand talking to some friends. I just don’t use it that way.

As an online marketer, I know that Facebook is a thriving, important venue. So I kind of have to keep an account. But I’m also giving up in some ways. This isn’t the place I’m planning to social network, because I just can’t expend the time to decide what I might be sharing, might not be sharing, what my friends might share, what friends of friends might share and then recheck all those settings every six months when Facebook does something different.

In fact, most of my time on Facebook has been dealing with friend requests. I’ve got over 200 stacked up. I officially gave up this week and started a fan page. That’s going to be how I share on Facebook going forward (and dammit, Facebook, make it so Notes can import information from multiple sources — I want to feed in Twitter, my personal blog and my work articles. And also make it so you only take summaries of articles. I’m kind of ticked at you deciding to reprint stuff I don’t want reprinted).

I’ll add, it’s been a pretty disturbing week on the privacy front with the internet in general. Last week, Google opted everyone into personalized results without any fanfare (Google’s Personalized Results: The “New Normal” That Deserves Extraordinary Attention). It got a blog post; real time search launched a few days later got a huge glitzy press conference (see Google Launches Real Time Search). And Google’s taking some well deserved hits from CEO Eric Schmidt saying in a documentary last week:

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

I don’t think the people at Google are evil. I don’t think people at Facebook are evil. I think they both have good intentions and believe they’re doing the right things. But I also know I sure lost a lot of faith in Facebook this week.

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