Facebook is not what it was when I was a freshmen here at GCC. I remember that day we were first able to log on (yes, sadly it is still in my head). It was sunny, during finals, and instead of studying or baking in the sun as I so frequently do, I was sitting inside, in front of my computer trying to beat my roommate in seeing who could get the most friends for the day. It was innocent, it was fun and most of all I felt it was secure.
Unlike Myspace.com (I have an account there too) I liked that Facebook restricted its user base to college students, and furthermore to individual schools being able to freely view your profile, while still allowing people to be friends with “real friends” at other colleges. Not that Myspace does not have security controls, it just seems that there it is black and white, no shades of gray as with Facebook.
But as we all do, Facebook had to grow up too. The aging process happened every time they added a new school or feature. After reading an article in a magazine called Fast Company, which I subscribe to, I realized that Facebook was just under a year old when we first logged on here at GCC (Here is a Fast Company graphic to illustrate my point). The social-networking site was still in her infancy, still an ad-hoc group of people and servers, people willing to try out new things and take the site in new ways people never thought possible.
Taking the site to new heights to me has three milestones – allowing the general public to use it, the news feed feature, and its application platform – which have determined the course the site has taken. Allowing the general public to use the site was great from a business perspective because Facebook was reaching out to all the people it previously alienated with its college only policy (I remember being one of them as a freshmen before we had Facebook). Through allowing more people to use the site, Facebook boosted (and still is boosting) its membership numbers and attracting more and more investment money.
Secondly, the news feed feature was a huge trial for Facebook and its privacy policies. The feature if you have ever used the site, allows us to see instant updates that our friends have made to their pages, messages they have left for other friends of ours, new posted pictures and items, etc. However, this was a huge adjustment to have all this information condensed and located in one central location. Previously, some of it was just spread out and available on the updated friends page. Due to the outcry from its users, Facebook updated its privacy controls to allow its users more control over the flow of their information.
This very reason, the control Facebook has always allowed its users over who has access to their personal information, is what concerns me about the Facebook application platform. I use applications, I think some of them are great, I think a lot of them are pointless; but in true, entrepreneurial spirit, each application is filling a void their creator thought needed to be filled. We even agree to use them, agree to share our information with the applications we install.
But, did you know, that you are also agreeing to share your information with applications your friends have installed? According to Chris Soghoian’s Blog on Cnet.com, that is exactly what we are doing through a very deeply buried privacy control. I had never seen these privacy controls before, but after reading his blog I visited my own account and there they were. I was (and I mean was) agreeing to share my information with people (and companies) I never knew would see my information.
Facebook has their reasons for burying the applications privacy controls, not that they are sinister in any way, shape or form. This type of behavior towards privacy controls is just not Facebook as it once was, where the old Facebook tried to make it as simple as possible to stop the spread of our information beyond people we directly allowed to see it.
I believe that any information we put on the web is our own responsibility. If you don’t want people to know about it or have it come up in a job interview someday, don’t put it on a social-networking site, no matter how secure you may think it is. I have since changed my privacy controls towards the applications platform, and I am contemplating scaling back the superfluous applications I use. The lesson I learned is that I need to be more vigilant in watching my privacy controls, and maybe taking a gander at them more then when big changes happen.
Facebook is not what it was, and for that matter neither are we. We all grow up, we all do stupid things, we all change and go through phases. I still love Facebook and continue being as addicted to it as I am to food and coffee (that’s another blog or ten). Facebook is growing out of its age of innocence, and just as we did, are doing and will do, its not all that bad.