Welcome to the panopticon.
Facebook is once again a hotly discussed topic, in particular, its privacy settings. According to PC World’s blog, Monday 31st May was official Quit Facebook Day. ‘If you agree that facebook doesn’t respect you, your personal data or the future of the web, you may want to join us’ cajoled the website’s by-line. All very well, but when it came to the pivotal day, about 35936 of facebook’s 450 million signed up members pledged to quit, and even then, the true number of those who actually did quit is pretty much unknown. And then there’s the unknown number of people who’ve chosen to quit facebook without making the pledge- perhaps without any knowledge of the ‘quit facebook day’ website.
But why all the controversy? Perhaps the biggest privacy concern- or blessing, depending how you look at it- is the infamous news feed. Launched in September 2006, it took social networking to a new level of intimacy. Since then, the website has persistently tweaked and twiddled with privacy settings, not always lettings its users in the loop until it’s too late. Remember the sudden explosion of facebook quizzes and social interview ‘pick your 5’ applications? Suddenly, the information we chose to post on quizzes and games were available to ‘pre approved’ (I didn’t approve them- did you?) third party websites- and those settings were public by default.
Those of us who are avid facebook users will have already noticed facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg’s new- and futile- attempts to increase our awareness of privacy settings on the website. Now, we can hide the ‘likes and interests’ section of our profiles from those whom we don’t have added as friends . I’d have to agree, to an extent, that facebook’s latest overhaul of its privacy settings is just too little, too late.
But essentially, once you have added that colleague, acquaintance, friend, relative on facebook, you’ve voluntarily surrendered every sliver of information you post (as well as what’s posted about you) to them, as well as everyone else on your friends list. In terms of facebook, your privacy is what you make it. As our lives become increasingly visible online via constant and repetitive documentation, we can’t be surprised when we meet a friend of a friend of a friend in real life who already knows who we are and what we’re all about. Especially when we’ve posted that information online for the entire world to see.
From what I can glean from facebooks’ latest privacy settings overhaul, the controls appear to attempt to reign in just how far that online world stretches. There’s three options- sometimes tellingly described as audience options- ‘friends only’, ‘friends of friends’, or ‘everyone’. At least we have control over that, if nothing else.
With the UK’s rise of CCTV and now facebook’s overwhelming online and mobile influence, we’re almost always being watched. The reality is, quitting facebook isn’t as easy as it sounds. Those of us who have (successfully or unsuccessfully) attempted to delete our profiles in the past will have discovered that only deactivation is possible. The option to reactivate your profile always stands, and staying off facebook requires sheer willpower.
All we’re asking for is a little transparency, facebook- it’s only slightly less than we’ve offered you.