Facebook is getting in my face

It used to be fun to muck about with friends on Facebook during quiet times in the office. Now, with the changes introduced last week, it’s like Big Brother.

Mark Zuckerberg says it’s all about “personalising” the internet. It seemed to be personal enough already. I mean I was able to have Facebook open and visit a few other websites without anyone tracking me or accessing my information or telling other people I’d been there. That was personal. Now, unless I carefully manage a whole new range of “privacy settings” – ie efforts by Facebook to share my information – I’m going to be popping up all over the place, leaving my digital fingerprints everywhere.

Reading Zuckerberg’s recent blogs, he says users have been asking to be able to hide more information about themselves. This I can understand. I like my friends but I don’t want them seeing all the webpages I’ve visited, or even knowing all my other friends. If I go to the Levis homepage, as Zuckerberg imagines I’ll do in his brave new world, I sure as hell won’t be clicking on any “like” buttons to tell my friends what type of pants I’m into.

I admit I’m a bit of a Luddite about such things. But I know I’m not alone in being very cautious about sharing personal info on the web. That’s why I restricted all the new privacy settings as soon as I saw this Facebook update. When I tried to opt out of one new option to share personal info, I received the following message:

Allowing instant personalization will give you a richer experience as you browse the web. If you opt-out, you will have to manually activate these experiences. Please keep in mind that if you opt out, your friends may still share public Facebook information about you to personalize their experience on these partner sites unless you block the application.

If that’s not an attempt to persuade  me to share my private info then I don’t know what is! It’s saying: “If you refuse this you will miss out on a richer experience”… I think Facebook has crossed the line there.

Another aspect of all this is bugging me, and that’s the idea that Facebook will arrange content according to whether or not my friends have “liked” something. People already spend too much time going to webpages that reinforce their beliefs and reaffirm their prejudices, and too little time reading a broad range of information from a variety of sources. Zuckerberg’s vision of a “richer experience” is, in this respect, a much poorer one in my opinion.

review on the CNN website describes a “potential side effect” of the new Facebook as: “the web you see is the web your friends like. Without some effort, you might end up browsing based on your friends’ preferences, rather than exploring new territory.” It also makes the ominous remark that “at least for now, a person’s likes and dislikes are only as visible as they want them to be”. At least for now? If I ever lose control over my “visibility” on the Web I’ll dump Facebook and go back to reading the printed word, just like it’s 1984 all over again.


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