Facebook Is My F-word

"Facebook has devolved from a social networking platform to an operating system for third-party applications."

I cringe at the mention of it.

It's more contemptible than "free", with all that's been done to make that word utterly meaningless—if not borderline fraudulent—mostly from the lips and keyboards of marketers.

At the risk of offedning you, I find it more despicable than "f*ck", which despite its inappropriateness in polite company is at least both honest and passionate.

Facebook is neither. Even the most casual media consumer must realize by now that it's a privacy nightmare. At least that's my hope. Perhaps my fear? I think therein lies the fulcrum, pivotal to my annoyance with this company and its user base. Are people oblivious of the risks involved, or simply comfortable with them? Neither side of that seesaw is particularly enjoyable for me.

While I have no right to tell you how to govern your own personal information, I'm going to butt in anyway.

You should honestly re-evaluate whether Facebook has any value in your home life, and more importantly, in your workplace. Governments and public servants in particular, should quit lusting after it. I work for the Government of Canada, and my near-breaking point for writing this post came yesterday: sitting in the most recent of what has been a large number of discussions, focus groups and conferences where the absence of Facebook access to government employees was bemoaned. The absolute breaking point? Another complaint this morning broadcast on of all places, the government's own professional networking platform: GCconnex.

There's probably nothing I could write that could make you completely withdraw from Facebook, particularly if you're one of those Mafia Wars or Farmville junkies. It shouldn't need to be said, but the proliferation of games and useless applications makes it a near certainty that Facebook will never we welcomed across the Government of Canada.

But if you won't quit or cut back, in the very least, audit your own account. Closely examine all your profile information. Consider the data and content you share, and consider whether some of it is unnecessary or inappropriate to be viewed or otherwise electronically accessed by casual acquaintances, strangers, companies and applications. Separate your contacts into groups, and customize privacy levels for each.

My withdrawal from Facebook has been gradual. Back when it was still just a meeting place for university students, I began with the premise that I wouldn't post anything that I wouldn't risk having made public, whether by deliberate hack or casual redistribution between my contacts and theirs. At the time, my criteria for making that distinction were probably more generous than they should have been.

Later, I rejected the third-party applications that demanded unlimited access to my personal information, regardless of whether or not this information was necessary to make their software run (it never was). Then I began tightly managing access to different types of content to my different groups of friends.

When Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada, began working directly with Facebook I held out legitimate hope that there would be improvements to protect the privacy of users of all technical prowess. But then Facebook's improvements introduced a host of new complications:
OTTAWA, Jan 27, 2010 (Reuters) - Canada's privacy czar, who got Facebook to agree last year to better protect users' personal information, will launch a new investigation over complaints that the changes sometimes make things worse.
It had become apparent that the company was no more sensible and trustworthy than the third-party developers that I had shunned long before. Gradually I began deleting anything which I didn't see an immediate need to share anymore.

Today my profile is mostly empty. Outside: a name, a city, a network. Inside: an email address. About the same amount of information I share on Twitter.

Am I over-reacting? It's your call. Read some of the recent press. What I find most disturbing is how they treat long-standing privacy issues like brand new developments:
But if Mafia Wars and Farmville is really what you want most—and as I've said before, I think Facebook has devolved from a social networking platform to an operating system for third-party applications—just open a dummy account for that purpose alone. Share nothing; play freely.

Update: I quit Facebook in mid-May, a couple of weeks prior to the official Quit Facebook Day.  One person wrote me to ask why.  The other 56 either didn't care, or are too busy gaming to notice.  I'm not missing it.

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