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It May As Well Be On the Front Page of the NYT

There was an article in the Times the other day on the number of clicks it would take to make all of one's personal information on Facebook private.  "To opt out of full disclosure of most information, it is necessary to click through more than 50 privacy buttons, which then require choosing among a total of more than 170 options."   And I'm reading it thinking, But if you want all of that information to be that private, what in the world are you doing on Facebook in the first place?

Lynn, who is very strict about her privacy, has no trouble at all with the Facebook policies.  She doesn't have a Facebook account and, as far as I can tell, has no intentions of getting one.   Problem solved.

A few years ago, I was sitting next to someone at a conference dinner and we got to talking about my blog.  I'd never met her, but she'd been following the blog for some time and asked me, "How does it feel to be revealing all of that personal information for anybody to read?"  I said, "Oh, there is so much more in my life that never gets on the blog.  I'm not revealing very much at all."  My rule of thumb for two decades now has been that you never put anything out into the internet that you're not willing to see on the front page of the New York Times.

I've been trying to decide if I should get a smartphone.   I sort of feel a professional responsibility.  All of the trend pronouncements claim that mobile devices are where it's at and that's what we have to be paying attention to.  But I was in Chicago the other day, standing at a street corner during the evening rush hour.  A bus pulled up in front of me and when I looked in, every single person was looking down into their little screen, thumbs flailing away.  I was watching the rain mist off the tops of the skyscrapers as they pushed up into the low clouds.  I decided I just don't want to be that connected.

I do understand that people feel as if Facebook has pulled a bait and switch.  They believe that they were led to believe that they would have more control over who gets to see their information than they now do -- or at least than they now do unless they go through those 50 buttons and 170 options.  The level of outrage is high.  But seriously, I think it's misplaced.  The whole point of Facebook was to build an application that enabled personal information to be shared with people that you don't know!  So it makes sense to me that the default would be sharing and that you, as the user, would have to do something extra to prevent sharing.   Being outraged that Facebook is developing new ways to share information without asking you first seems to me to be the antithesis of what Facebook is designed to do.

Marian knows someone who was outraged when she discovered that people that she didn't know were reading her blog.  "That's just for my family and friends," she snapped.  I could only shake my head in wonderment.

There is no guarantee of privacy on the internet.  Never has been.   If Facebook is important to you (as it certainly is to many people) then you're faced with making a number of compromises.  Facebook provides tools that give you some control over those compromises.  That's the best you're going to get.



I couldn't agree more. We all knew back in the day that nothing, not emails, not tweets, not blog posts, will remain private once posted. This coming from my Twitter account with my alias!


I agree. Some people just have different ideas of how things should be done (esp in the electronic world). This reminds me of a few professors that were enraged when their students emailed them "off-hours" (i.e. not M-F 8-5). We all have different expectations of connectedness, privacy, etc. Not sure how much can be chalked up to generational differences.

Leroy Brown's Hatbox

""That's just for my family and friends," she snapped."

Aren't those called letters?


I agree completely. I do thinl Facebook should have easier ways to make some things private, 170 options are too many. But if I was that massively concerned I wouldn't do it. I also operate on roughly the same rule of thumb as you do.

John Doyle

Hallelujah! Nice to see I'm not the only one with this view. Facebook has made tremendous efforts to provide access control to its users at a very granular level. Simplicity and granularity are not going to play nicely.

But more importantly, as you say, FB (like all Web 2.0 services) is for sharing information. If privacy is paramount, turn off that modem!


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