I hope I look back on this post some day with a bit of a chuckle. I want to chuckle at the fact that once upon a time privacy issues in social networking were a problem… and service providers recognized that problem, arguably an ethical problem, fixed the problems and let us move on with using such an amazing tool to stay in touch with people literally all over the world. I want to move onto something that permits me to stay in touch with people without invading my privacy, and selling my information like a commodity.
I hope to look at that last sentence later and say to myself, and I found it.
So what are our options?
We can join a competing service. We can blog. We can dent or tweet. We can email (in the tradition of newsletters). We can return to live communication. But each step of that removes features that have become useful and familiar — our network, visibility control such as it is, robust messages with pictures and video, easily finding friends-of-friends, or being able to stay in touch with people no matter where they are.
So what does this have to do with technology?
I firmly hold the opinion that technology, and the use of technology, is not absent of the need for ethical behavior. Science is not without ethics, and technology is a result of science. Science for the sake of science is wrong. Doing something just because you can do it doesn’t mean it is right. So the increasing seemingly unethical behavior of Facebook makes me look at other options, some of which I already know the trade-offs. I have done my part to request they behave in a way I believe is more ethical, but with 400 million users, I’m not doing to do the math to figure out how small my voice is.
Micro-blogging by denting, tweeting, or similar is like having a conversation in a huge crowd. Anything you say can be overheard. Anything you share can be overheard. Ultimately, I have no problems with this because these services are forthright in the way their service works. There is no privacy except for basic account information like your password. Anything else you share at will.
Blogging is almost the same way, though offering hosted of personal installations. It is more like controlling the area of the crowd you stand in, but there is still practically no privacy outside of controlling whether or not a story is published; though some services offer “private” blog entries. Again, not a problem because that is a known factor entering into the usage of such a mechanism.
Competing services have a wide range of options, though not all are like Facebook (e.g., Last.fm is a music site — I wouldn’t personally consider that a social networking site). I am going to wager that some are responding in an opposite direction to Facebook to present a “more privacy minded alternative”. Where Google typically seems interested in mining information, they have increased privacy controls in Orkut. Outstanding. Then there is Livejournal (which I used to use) which has a very well developed sense of public, friends, private, and certain-friends-only (lists). But, of course, the issue with a competing service is the loss of your existing network — and can you convince everyone you want to stay in touch with to move over.
That is Facebook’s element of holding the users as a kind of voluntary hostage. It was so easy to build a network of friends — and everyone seemed to jump on board (400 million users). Now the question becomes focused on how much sharing of private information people will tolerate before they start abandoning Facebook at the loss of their easily built social network.