Facebook’s problem is dissociative identity disorder (UPDATED)

A few days ago, the Consumerist kicked up quite a stir when it uncovered how a relatively small tweak to Facebook’s terms of service essentially negated any rights users might have had to permanently remove their content from the social site. Soon after, the apologists and site management attempted to discredit and/or ‘explain away’ the situation, notwithstanding the fact that Facebook ostensibly ambushed its users. The key issue is whether Facebook should have access to your data after you delete your account, and the given explanation for why they need it is so all the messages, notes, tags (and poop) flying around the site aren’t dislocated by one person deciding to remove theirs. It’s a “two-message system,” says CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and there’s nothing you can do about it (including quit).

I’ve heard more than a few people cry bloody murder when ‘colorful’ pictures of themselves showed up on Facebook, kindly tagged to them by their friends. They applied for a job, and their prospective employer now knows they enjoy a little weed, or a little too much drink – they are passed over before anything can get scrubbed. In addition, I’ve absorbed first-person accounts of folks fighting with the same friends to delete mentions of their childrens’ names and photos, citing the fact they themselves don’t mention that particular subject matter on their own Facebook pages. Incredulity reins supreme, and real-world friendships are weakened as a result. And this is supposed to be fun?

Still, some folks opine that the best way to protect your identity on social networks is to sign up for them – a completely ludicrous proposition. All creating a legitimate account is going to do is provide a clearly defined target for the above described hassles. The only real benefit of such action is it protects your real world friends from getting scammed by the fake you, of which there may be a few lurking around already looking for a helping hand. Personally, I love my friends and family, and thankfully they take responsibility for their own actions so I don’t have to.

As for the idea that your privacy has already been deemed null and void at the hands of the internet, I say bunk. Consider this – you share personal information all over the web. That information lies on many disparate sites, mixed together with other information from many other users. Even Google can’t sort through and precisely collate that data with you – that’s why they’re trying Friend Connect. Someone looking carefully and specifically for you might be able to correlate this information, but it’s a time consuming task (and not necessarily free either). Conversely, if you share all that data on a single site, anyone looking for trouble can easily find you – even Facebook admits they’ve spent a lot of time and effort refining their own search algorithms to make it so.

In a perfect world, everyone would understand exactly how to tweak their Facebook privacy settings for optimum safety. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that perfect world – if we did users might have thought about reading the terms of service before they socked themselves into this mess. And let’s face it – it sounds like work. We’ll ignore the fact that people are actually trusting a service whose genesis was possible theft. Gloss over attempts to infringe on user privacy – in particular the failed Beacon, with its omniscience regarding your everyday purchases. Disregard that it takes days to permanently delete an account. Users signed up in droves anyway.

Coming on the heels of the announcement that Facebook plans to make money by selling user data, I’m wholly unsurprised by this move. Bailing users breaking all those links (and the associative information they convey) would be like breaking the bank.

Now you’re supposed to just trust them?

Good luck with that.

UPDATE: As commenters noted, Facebook retracted their terms of service changes late last night. And threw in a gimmick too (likely in an attempt to trump the FTC complaint).


They already went back to the old TOS.

@FGA – Yea, they did a poll of ‘select users’ and it didn’t turn out like they’d hoped.

I think this goes beyond mere poor decision making – there’s a distinct pattern of jamming bad ideas down users’ throats. You have to ask yourself what’s going to happen when they have a real security crisis over there, unless the plan has always been to sweep it under the rug. Howard Lindzon noted “Facebook sucks a little more every day . Now the panic for profit state that Facebook has become leads to this…” – I think that sums things up nicely.

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