What would it take to get me on Facebook?

In a word: Trust.

Nearly every week, I consider making a Facebook account. I get notices about events for which the full details are on Facebook. I hear stories about people connecting with old friends. My old students and old friends are surprised that they are unable to find me.

I love being in touch with people. I moved around a bit growing up and became quite the correspondent. I have boxes of letters I still move from house to house with me, treasured belongings even though I never look back at them.

Parenthood sucked up the leisure time I used to use for letter-writing, and now I email with some folk, and most years put stamps only on those embarrassing holiday letters we all send out. (Confession: Okay, I actually love reading people’s holiday letters, but I feel very unhip and un-GenX for saying that without irony.)

Friendster seemed interesting (yes, I am really GenX), but in my pre-librarian life I had rural dial-up Internet, and was still writing actual letters. Now I am online all day long, have no time for letter writing, and would be the perfect candidate for Facebook…except that I went to library school and developed this little hangup about privacy.

Privacy…ah, Facebook how you smirk at my privacy concerns. Yes, I know that Beacon was a folly that you now regret, and this week’s terms of service kerfuffle may have been overblown. But to me these moves are indicators that you are a company that doesn’t think through the privacy implications before making changes.

And while actions speak louder than words, your words worry me too, Facebook. Your terms of service (the “old”/”reinstated” ones) make me worry that someday, maybe long into the future, many terms of service later, after you have been bought and the buyer bought and that buyer bought, I will someday see my then-adult son’s young face staring back at me from an advertisement for, well, who knows what. All because my cousin uploaded a photo of him after a family vacation in 2008.

By the way, note that this is not a privacy concern because I am doing anything illicit; it is privacy concern because I would feel violated at this use of my son without my express permission, even though it would be perfectly legal and within the terms of service to which the photo copyright owner agreed.

What can you do, Facebook, to earn my trust?

1) Change your terms of service. I don’t mean leave them as they are/were before you made everyone mad this week.  I mean change them all together. Stop requiring that we:

…automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose, commercial, advertising, or otherwise, on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.

I don’t care if you say you don’t want to put my son’s photo on a billboard, because what you say on your blog or to a reporter does not outweigh the legal contract you are asking people to sign/click through.

This is just plain creepy. And greedy. AND uncool to boot.

2) Start acting trustworthy. Make your privacy settings comprehensible to the average user. You’ve taken steps in this direction, but it really just isn’t enough.  Your aunt who still types emails in ALL CAPS should be able to understand her setting and their implications. Be clear about the risks and benefits of new apps. Don’t globally implement apps and then require people to opt-out of things; rather allow them to opt-in. Do good in the world.  Please.

Of course, half of me knows it’s a good thing for my own time management and personal life that I am not on Facebook. I could suck up hours tracking down all my teenage crushes and long-losts, and that’s really the last thing I need when I barely have the time for a cup of tea with my here-and-nows.  However, the other half of me – the one that wants to get sucked into staying up too late finding out how many kids so-and-so has and whether the morose violinist from my school bus days is still playing music or at least doing okay – offers these suggestions.  If you don’t take them, well, I’m sure in a few more years there will be a new social networking platform that everyone’s on, and maybe I’ll jump on board that time around.


Full disclosure here: I do *sort of* have a Facebook account. What I mean is that I have a fake Facebook account under a made up name, with virtually no information in it save a made up birthdate. I use this account for the times when I need to look something up that is only on Facebook. I rarely use it, and am forever forgetting my password, and have had to create a fake Gmail account under the same name to deal with the password reset requests…and this is just getting convoluted and complicated. I wish Facebook would just get its act together so I could join in good faith and stop pretending to be a 28 year old male online just to find out when a meeting will be happening.



Filed under IP, privacy, technology

7 responses to “What would it take to get me on Facebook?

  1. whyme?.com

    I am glad to see that someone is aware of the issues at hand. I agree with what you’ve pointed out. My library peers are shocked that I don’t have a Facebook account. I discovered these issues in article published in the Nation and they should make everyone pause.

    Do your thing SJL!

  2. Joe

    the fact that Facebook change their TOS back so quickly is like an admission that they knew they were wrong

  3. greyson

    @ Joe, my beef is that while Facebook has changed their terms of service back to how it was before, the way it was before (and is again) is *still* unacceptable.

    I think Facebook is an extremely smart company, and their record indicates that they will push privacy invasion and the taking of people’s intellectual property only as far as they can before it hurts their bottom line…which is farther than I think they “should” in a world where responsibility to and respect for users was a significant concern.

  4. greyson

    Ironically, I am finding myself tempted to go look up my fake FB acct password, now that I have a ton of referring links to thispost from within the FB universe! However, I do have work to do, and my kid will be home soon, so I don’t think I’ll choose to spend my time that way. The impulse to do so made me chuckle, though.

  5. JenP

    This is a great response Greyson – thanks for this. For anyone who is using / has used / is thinking of using facebook, and has privacy concerns should read Steve Mansour’s chronology of how he (finally) erased his account, here: http://www.stevenmansour.com/en/writings/2008/february/13/facebook_email_delete%3A_not_enough

  6. greyson

    Hey, the Toronto Star recently ran an article, “Why Facebook is Losing its Cool,” about “The Web-savvy twentysomethings who fought the status quo, refused to enlist with the masses, and never gave into society’s pressures – the Facebook Resisters.”

    Somewhat tongue in cheek, to be sure (and I for one am not exactly a twenty-something anymore), but a pretty nice example of the postulate that whenever something online gets so big/pervasive that you feel like not being there is a barrier to public participation, that entity can no longer be cutting edge.

    How long before “all the cool kids” are joining Mansour and ditching Facebook? Or is that just wishful thinking for my privacy-curmudgeon self? Either way, I feel pretty sure the next big “essential” web app/place/company will come around in the not-too-distant future (I know some of you think it is here in the form of Twitter) and if it has better policies than Facebook, maybe I’ll jump on board that one.

    Star article link: http://www.thestar.com/living/article/595349

  7. Pingback: Librarianly committments + Privacy improvements = Facebook for me? « Social Justice Librarian

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