It’s our own fault, but now what? 

Facebook

Has anyone heard the story of the Frog and Boiling Water?

The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.1

This leads me to a question. If Facebook had told users upfront that they would pretty much give up their privacy and have their every move tracked, how many of their 1.23 billion active users would have initially signed up?

They didn’t do that of course. What they did do is gradually make changes over time to capitalize on how they can benefit from your information. They know when and how often you check Facebook. They know your age, gender, birthday, where you went to school, where you work, who your friends and family are, what your likes and dislikes are and, in some cases, even your phone number. They know this why?  Because we gave it to them. And with features such as tagging, checking-in and messenger, users are obliging to give up even more of their privacy for the sake of being social. As a result, Facebook knows when you are home or not home. With a simple click of the “like” button, Facebook can track your interests and target you with specific ads that might be of interest to you. They have even been accused of tracking you even when you leave Facebook to view other websites, though they deny this.

Ever start writing a post and you say to yourself, “I better not” and delete the text because you thought it might offend or embarrass someone? That so-called “deleted post” may still exist! According to an article published on SLATE.com, “To collect the text you type, Facebook sends code to your browser. That code automatically analyzes what you type into any text box and reports metadata back to Facebook.”2 Facebook calls these types of non-posts “self-censorship” posts and collects this data. How do they use it? It’s all right here: (http://www.aaai.org/ocs/index.php/ICWSM/ICWSM13/paper/viewFile/6093/6350)

Private message anyone? A Salon.com article talks about a bug that allowed private messages to become public on the Facebook Wall.3 A poor college student had his “I can’t believe we made out” message posted for ALL to see. Though Facebook denied this was the case, this wasn’t the only instance of private messages being posted publicly reported4

Maybe the most well-known infringement on privacy form Facebook came when an experiment was conducted “in which researchers temporarily tweaked the contents of nearly 700,000 [Facebook] users’ news feeds—without their knowledge —to test their emotional response to seeing more positive or negative news from friends.”5

Speaking of friends, are any of them hiding from a former lover and calling themselves “Bob Smith?” One of the most recent Facebook battles involved the company wanting to implement a “Real Name” policy. Drag Queens, who didn’t want their true identity known, protested and claimed discrimination. They may have just won, according to sflist.com.6

The last point: Once you are on Facebook, there is NO leaving…really.

Sure, WikiHow can give you the 11-Step Process to “Permanently” delete your Facebook account, so they say.7 But after reading everything I’ve stated above, do you REALLY believe Facebook permanently deletes anything?

On top of that, if you are like me, you feel stuck. You believe Facebook is your ONLY true connection to family and friends. In other words, they’ve got you right where they want you… IN HOT WATER (boiling). I’m sure that’s not how you felt when you got inJ.

Note: I loved the frog metaphor, but can’t take full credit. Behavioral economist Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University used this same metaphor during a talk on the TED stage. You can hear that talk on the TED Radio Hour Podcast. The talk discusses: facial recognition software that can connect an anonymous human face to an online name, and a Facebook account in about 3 seconds. ~ scary!

References:

  1. Wikipedia “Boiling Frog” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog
  2. Slate – “On Second Thought…Facebook wants to know why you didn’t publish that status update you started writing.” http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/12/facebook_self_censorship_what_happens_to_the_posts_you_don_t_publish.html
  3. Salon- “Facebook released my messages from college” http://www.salon.com/2013/12/15/facebook_outed_my_private_messages_from_college_partner/
  4. Huffington Post – “Facebook Bug Exposing Users’ Private Messages On Timeline? New Glitch Reportedly Spotted (PICTURE)” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/facebook-bug-private-messages-timeline_n_1909813.html
  5. Mercury News- “Facebook runs into uproar over experiment that tested emotional reactions” http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_26064438/facebook-runs-into-uproar-over-experiment-that-tested
  6. SFlist- “BREAKING: Facebook Issues Mea Culpa To Drag Queens And Others Over ‘Real Name’ Policy [Updated]” http://sfist.com/2014/10/01/facebook_apparently_backing_down_fr.php
  7. WikiHow- “How to Permanently Delete a Facebook Accounthttp://www.wikihow.com/Permanently-Delete-a-Facebook-Account
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