We’re working on digital media ethics in DIKULT106, and Facebook’s changes are perfect material for us to discuss in tomorrow’s class on privacy. Here’s ReadWriteWeb’s quick summary of the changes, or you can watch Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote for yourself. (If you’re going to quote this anywhere you’ll want to make sure you watch more than the first five minutes…)
The most obvious changes are probably the “frictionless sharing”, where lots of automated sharing ends up in the new “Ticker” on the right of the FB page, the improved ease of controlling who sees individual status updates, and the new timeline for our profiles.
In terms of ethics, we need to think about who these changes are good for. Do the changes cause us to unwittingly publicise more of our information, or are we coerced? Can any harm come of this? In general, I would assume that if you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold. Is that OK? Perhaps we gain so much from Facebook that it’s fine that we’re the product?
Facebook’s new idea of “frictionless sharing” means sharing stuff you may not have realised you were sharing. Like every song you listen to on Spotify or every article you read in the newspaper. They show up in that new right hand column on FB. Slate writes: “Facebook now has a place on its site reserved especially for boring updates.
Now Zuckerberg wants to lower the bar. “One thing that we’ve heard over and over again is that people have things that they want to share, but they don’t want to annoy their friends by putting boring stuff in their news feeds,” he said during his keynote. To me, this doesn’t sound like a problem that needs solving. If Facebook users aren’t sharing stuff because they worry it will bore their friends, good! Thank you, people of Facebook, for your restraint in choosing not to bore me.
In terms of ethics, boring people isn’t really evil. (Usually.) But who do you think frictionless sharing is good for? Us? The advertisers? Facebook? Spotify? Why?
The Timeline is coming on September 29 (and you can get it right now if you jump through a few hoops). This lets you display the highlights of your entire life visually. This isn’t a new idea, but FB has so much more info about your mundane details that they might certainly do it better and for more of us than its been done before. Anne Helmond calls this a “re-centralization of the self“, and notes its similarity to Microsoft’s MyLifeBits project. Again, who is this good for? Are there dangers to us in this?
A few other privacy issue are less easy to spot. Nik Cubrilovic just posted about the extent to which FB shares our information with other websites, even without our consent, in his post Logging out of Facebook is not Enough. You know, of course, that if you’re logged in to FB other websites with FB “like” buttons know who you are. Did you know that when you logout the cookies that identify you are not removed? Other websites – and FB itself – still know who you are and which websites you’ve visited. That’s not what “logout” usually means.
BetterFacebook is a browser extension that allows you to view FB in different ways, and remove some notifications. Maybe this kind of thing is the pragmatic way of allowing some user freedom in social media, since Open Social apparently hasn’t worked. Better Facebook doesn’t let you control your data, but it does let you view it the way you want. sort of.
I’m looking forwards to our discussion in class tomorrow!