Facebook is opting you out of privacy? So what?

Should Facebook be blamed for its apparently cavalier attitude toward privacy? Or might the company be right that people really don't care all that much?

Chris Matyszczyk
5 min read

Oh, what's the big deal?

People appreciated those Facebook privacy settings that they had to spend hours working out. For 50 percent of those people, it was so much fun they even changed their settings at some point. Soon, they got bored of them and just wanted them simpler. So Facebook came along and made them simpler.

What's the big deal?

We at Facebook are convinced that you should be forced to share as much as possible because it's good for you. It's like dragging your kid to elementary school. Except that you're the little kid. Our CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is, as he said at D8, "continuing to push" and "making the world open and connected." Yes, he's pushing you. You need it. Just as you needed to learn to eat salad.

Look, perhaps you don't all get it yet. Facebook creates products that are, as our CEO also said at the conference, "designed with people at their core." YOU'RE at the center of this, not us.

Come on, what's the big deal?

We care so much that we know a lot more about you than you think. In a good way. We understand that you don't want to have to push even one button, such as with Facebook Connect. As our CEO explained at D8: "Even though there's only one button when you push Connect, it's a lot more friction than, I think, it seems."

Who needs friction? Please, just be honest for once in your life. Lazy is lovely. Work is too much. Why should you have to push any buttons when Facebook can just push yours? The Like button idea (swiftly adopted by so many people out there) allows Facebook to personalize your experience on a constant basis. No one else can do this much for you. For free.

So what's the big deal?

In order for us to give you a better product we need to know more about you. Wouldn't you expect that? The more your hairdresser knows about your hair, the more he can make you look gorgeous, sweetie. Yes, some Facebook employees will be able to see exactly what you're doing around the Web--and we do mean "you," because you use your real name on Facebook, right?

As our spokesman Barry Schnitt explained it in an old-fashioned email: "While, for security reasons, we do not publicly disclose all of the safeguards we have in place, we have advanced internal tools that restrict access to information to those who need it to do their jobs (an example would be someone on our User Operations team who helps people fix problems with their accounts or to investigate a security issue)."

Employees who are approved to access these internal tools have to sign an agreement and complete an extensive training program beforehand. And Facebook, says Barry, "tracks the actions performed through internal tools, each use is logged and requires the employee to explain the purpose of his or her use, and we audit all of this regularly."

Techies are good people. Everyone knows that. We just are so advanced that we have the power to build a better world. And that power is fun. We're not pirates. We're pioneers. Yes, we sometimes find it difficult to answer questions on stage, but so would you if you were thinking this much about making your products better for you.

So, really, what's the big deal?

Our Barry Schnitt said it really well. We're "100 percent focused on the active experience--people liking things across the Internet to share content with their friends." Yes, in some past analog life you used to like things without having the need to tell people about them. But that's so old. All that information we're getting about you, that's just "passive" data that "enables us to optimize the active experience and improve the product."

Can you just dismount from that 16-hands trotting machine and explain to us what the big deal is?

You love free, don't you? You'll sacrifice a lot for it. So why can't you just sit back and enjoy a world in which a company is enriching your Web experience for free? Look, even the ads don't really look like ads. They're tastefully done. They're nicely discreet. This isn't those gaudy banner things you see in some decrepit place like The New York Times.

So can you please make this privacy thing a smaller deal now?

Facebook doesn't "share or sell the information we see when someone visits a Web site with a Facebook social plugin to third parties and we do not use it to deliver ads." (Barry's words again.) We just hang onto it for 90 days simply to understand you better. Have you ever spent 90 days trying to understand Facebook? Why not? Oh, wait you've got better things to do. Just so you know, "the 90 days is a maximum," our Barry says. It gives Facebook "the flexibility to improve the product and investigate any potential issues, but we will delete data sooner when we can." You know, sooner than Google.

So can you see now why it's not a big deal?

Look no one opts in to anything anymore. When was the last time YOU volunteered? Have you seen how short they are at the blood banks? And you only give your stuff to Goodwill because you get a tax break, don't you? See, we are getting to know you better all the time. Just so's we're clear, opt-in versus opt-out has got NOTHING to do with money-in versus money-out, OK? We've already made our money. We're already on to making the world a better place. It took Bill Gates 30 years to get there.

So it's not a big deal, is it?

Look, here's how easy we're making it for you. We know you rarely log out of Facebook, because, well, what's the point? So as long as you stay logged on, we are going to customize your Web experience better than the neighbor's yellow stripey Mustang.

Yes, you can open a separate browser and use that exclusively for Facebook and then we can't get to know you better. And, yes, maybe you can use your Facebook iPhone app and then we can't catch your browsing. But why would you do that?

So, come on, what's the big deal?

You checked in to Hotel Facebook California because it's free. The sheets are clean. The coffee is hot. The staff is friendly. And the whole world is there. You can check out anytime you like. But why would you? Why would you ever want to leave?