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Thursday, 11 October 2012

Facebook wants too much information for comfort

Facebook's Zuckerberg really likes
your information.
The way I see it, this question should never have cropped up, that Facebook is becoming less and less easy to work with. I was a fairly early adopter of Facebook, starting use in 2007, and from the start it delivered to me an unalloyed mixture of benefits. I have made new friends on Facebook and I have reconnected with people from the distant past I never would have been able to contact otherwise. It has provided amusement and intellectual stimulation in equal measure. My support for it was, until recently, comprehensive. In 2009, when I started out as a freelance journalist, one of my early published stories was in the way of a defense of Facebook, which was at the time under some amount of critical scrutiny from a still sceptical mainstream media.

Facebook is truly a revolutionary device. Not only was it the first social media platform to actually work, but it spawned others that have also gone on to independent success. Twitter grew out of the success of Facebook, as it took one element of Facebook - the status update - and turned it into the core of its method of information exchange. Then came Google Plus, which is apparently the preferred platform for the more technically inclined among the globe's internet citizens. But Facebook was the one to storm the citadel of public communication in such an astonishingly broad variety of ways that it changed forever the way people stay in touch. Before Facebook, social networking was a very exclusive passtime, restricted to a small number of IT savvy people. With Facebook, connecting with others across vast physical boundaries became suddenly possible for everyone.

But Facebook has changed in nature as it has become subject to commercial imperatives. The IPO that disappointed so many took place within a context where Facebook was already starting to annoy people due to its incorporation into the news feed of commercial advertisements.

The first time I really objected to Facebook's appropriation of my personal data was when I tried to remove my date of birth from my account record. When I first started using Facebook I had included this information although I had blocked other people from seeing it. Then one day I decided that I wanted to remove it entirely from the Facebook database and was disappointed to discover that this would be impossible. I sent a message to the site's administrators but received no reply. Today another similar occurrence has deeply soured my view of Facebook. I find that Facebook is now making disclosure of location information mandatory. Again, I messaged the site's administrators. I am not optimistic that this message will be any more successful than the first.

Of course I can understand why Facebook wants this information. Your age determines what advertisements you see. Your location information, also, can easily be converted into any number of commercial opportunities for Facebook. I understand their reasoning, but I am afraid that Facebook must likewise respect my need for privacy. Date of birth information is extremely sensitive. For me, location information is equally sensitive and I do not want anyone using Facebook to be able to see either of these things as they relate to me. So it is with a heavy heart that I declare that Facebook is on notice. Officially. From me. Within a few days it is likely that I will cease using Facebook, and disable my account.

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