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A typical day in the life of a Facebook user…
9:00 AM: Facebook makes a change to its interface/privacy settings/app integration.
9:01 AM: Status updates explode with rage. Everyone declares hatred for Facebook and complains about the change.
9:01:27 AM: Six people defect to Google+.
9:02 AM: Someone posts a video of a cat. Everyone moves on.
This is a recurring theme. Every time Facebook sneezes, the entire Web ecosystem bursts into flames.
Everyone laments the end of privacy, whines, complains, and then goes back to using Facebook. The fact is that we, as people, hate change. Facebook knows this and doesn’t care, because Facebook also knows that we, as people, adapt to change. Facebook has met our collective outrage with a deaf ear since its first update and we’ve adapted and continued the tacit trade: you give us a place to tell our friends what we’re doing on Saturday and to show off photos of our kids and we will let you collect that information and sell it to marketers and advertisers.
But this recent change is different, specifically the idea of “Frictionless Sharing”, and I’ll tell you this much: I don’t like it. It smacks of Big Brother and World Domination in a creepy “I am invincible!” kind of way.
I’m going to tell you why it’s a great idea for advertisers and a terrible idea for human beings. I’m going to tell you why you should be afraid of it and why you should resist it. I’m going to tell you why it’s bad for your identity and for your sanity. Unfortunately, I’m not going to tell you what to do about it, because as long as we’re ok with “whatever, just let me tell everyone where I’m eating lunch” then the trend will continue and who knows where it will take us next? So consider this a warning along with a fact that may be difficult to hear: Most people really don’t care where you’re eating lunch.
Friction Is Good
The idea of Frictionless Sharing is really just sharing without the actual inconvenience of sharing. It means the moment you take an action it’s announced to your Facebook world with no help or input from you. Facebook wants to remove the effort of choosing to share by doing it for you.
Consider this: friction is defined as the resistance that one object encounters when moving over another.
Friction between what we’re doing and the immediate release of that information into the universe is a good thing. Friction slows us down and forces us to consider whether it’s good/useful/worthwhile to let everyone know what game we’re playing, what grocery store we’re visiting, what song we’re listening to and what news we’re reading. Friction throws a little resistance at the idea of sharing everything, all the time.
Forget “frictionless sharing”, this new update is more like “vomit-sharing”. I doubt I’m alone in this, but I don’t want everything I do broadcast for everyone to see.
Do I play Farmville at 10:32 on a Tuesday morning in between managing my clients’ social media accounts and building their web pages? Now that Facebook has made that abundantly public, I guess there’s no point in denying it. But I’m absolutely certain that I don’t want Facebook deciding to share that information. I’m also absolutely certain that you couldn’t care less whether I’ve planted a fictitious tree or harvested my 5,675th tomato plant.
The right side of my Facebook page is now a stream of updates about who’s playing Mafia Wars, Gardens of Time, Poker or any number of games. Apparently people have a lot more time on their hands than I thought.
If we’re connected on Facebook, I know exactly what you’re playing right now. If you’re my client or employee, do you really want me to have that information? If you’re a sane, intelligent person, do you really want this information disgorged at you in real-time?
This is less of a privacy issue, although I’d prefer to keep my game playing to myself, than an assault on sanity and reason. This is ADHD in a wall feed. As if we’re not distracted and overloaded enough by the barrage of information coming at us everywhichway every day, now we get even more of it.
I used to log into Facebook and scroll through my feed to check out the recent updates and see if there was anything interesting going on. It wasn’t that challenging to do. Click. Scroll. Pause. Scroll. I truly did not need a real-time tickertape parade of banalities.
This kind of “sharing” is noise. It distracts us from information that might actually be useful, interesting or important. Ultimately it contributes to the tuning-out we must do if we’re to mentally survive the barrage. By default we become less attentive and process less information. The human brain simply cannot accommodate that much information at once. Eventually we are going to forget how to pay attention at all. Call it “The Dumbing down of the World”. A little bit of friction in the name of sanity is a good thing indeed.
Sharing Should Be A Choice
Some applications only allow you to use them if you do so through your Facebook account. Games like Farmville et al only exist within the context of Facebook, so there is no option to remove the connection. Again, the tacit trade: I get to harvest imaginary chardonnay grapes and in return I let my information be sold to advertisers. It’s a choice I’ve made. What I don’t choose to do is share that information with you, dear friends, acquaintances and clients.
The good news is that there is some control over this. The bad news is that it requires the time and know-how to go into each application’s settings and configure the privacy controls. By default, there is no privacy. I wonder how many of my friends, acquaintances and clients know this? I wonder if they did, would they choose not to bombard the world with their Words With Friends scores? In “more bad news”, every time Facebook sneezes out a new update, it resets all those privacy controls to “default = zero”.
So we are forced to be vigilant. Add “check on privacy settings” to my long list of daily to-dos. Sorry if I haven’t finished your website yet, but I’ve got crops to hide from you.
More egregious are applications that share your information. Period. No options, no settings.
This was exactly the case with Spotify, a music service which generously told everyone what song you were listening to as you were listening to it, probably unbeknownst to you. The backlash forced Spotify to create a “private listening” setting, which you can use in the event that you don’t want your every lyric request shared with the world. Facebook and its developers can’t imagine a world in which we opt out of vomit-share, but I can. I speculate that you can, too.
It gets worse. Do you use news apps through Facebook, such as The Washington Post? Be mindful of what stories you’re reading, because the moment you click on a link – whether or not you read or even glance at the story – everyone will know about it. There is no choice to opt-out of sharing your implied political leanings, sexual preferences, social obsessions or just plain accidental clicks with everyone else.
I connect with everyone from close friends and family to business associates and clients to perfect strangers on Facebook. But maybe I want to read about Bisexual Liberal Elitist Christian Conservative Nazi Snuff Porn in peace. Not everything is meant to be shared. I bet you’ve got one or two things you’d thank Facebook not to share without your knowledge or consent.
Despite “privacy settings”, I’ve long since accepted that anything I publish online can, and probably will, be public. If it’s something I wouldn’t say to my mother or my business partner then I simply don’t say it. So in that respect, I control my own fate. But when the choice is taken away – by Big Brother World Domination Frictionless Sharing – I start to lose my cool. I hope this bothers you, too.
Ubiquitous Does Not Equal Benevolent
You can Like a blog post. Or a photo. Or a dish towel.
The Like button is everywhere and we click it with Pavlovian fervor. It’s no stretch to see how this connects us to Facebook, so you can safely assume that everything you Like or Share is announced on Facebook. But now with so many sites and vendors using Facebook as the default “log in” choice, you can probably also see where this becomes a bit more… frictionless.
Just the other day I was making a purchase on a site that I frequent, and I noticed they had an option for me to log in with my Facebook account. It was a nearly automatic reaction – click the friendly blue button and violà – instant login. No need to burn a brain cell remembering a username and password.
But a fraction of an instant before I clicked, it occurred to me that this login “for my convenience” was actually just a veiled way to connect more of the dots – my dots – and broaden the circle of buying and selling my information and letting the world know about it as it happened. I decided to use my site-specific account and leave Facebook out of it.
It’s not just resistance or paranoia.
Do you remember not long ago when Facebook started vomit-sharing your purchases from a gaggle of “partner sites” through its Beacon experiment? The outrage was loud enough to shut that one down, but consider the implications when a company thinks it’s a good idea to tell other people what you bought, without your knowledge or permission.
Before Facebook could say “here’s your opt-out you p#$$!&$” it had been slapped with a lawsuit that resulted in a $9.5 million settlement and an end to the program.
But what we’re seeing now is not so different. Are we being systematically desensitized or perhaps so tuned-out that we’re willing to let our silence speak for itself?
Next time you stream a movie or a song, read an ebook or Like a news article, I want you to remember that there is no longer any friction between your activities and the rest of the world knowing about them.
Don’t be fooled by the familiar blue “thumbs up”. You’re being cyber stalked. Sometimes you may look behind you and see the creepy blue stalker. Sometimes you may just get a sensation of being watched. Other times you won’t know it at all, until the day some action you took comes back to haunt you.
So I want you to be outraged, just a little bit. And I want you to be cautious. Resist the assimilation, log out of Facebook when you’re not using it (oh, they say they’ve fixed the “mistake” where they were tracking your every move even when you weren’t on Facebook – but that’s another story), be a teeny bit obsessive about checking, rechecking and double checking your privacy settings (learn how to do it if you must – surely there is one brain cell left that can think clearly)… and how about keeping some of your life separate?
It’s great to Like your favorite songs, movies, stories, pages, games… but do so with purpose and awareness. They day we all become totally ok with letting an advertising platform make our decisions for us is the day we are truly doomed as a thinking, functioning civilization.
Remember, life is more than a perfectly targeted ad.