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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Your Privacy. Your Problem. Idiot.


Everyone knows about Facebook's latest privacy violations at this point, which this time, has more than your average privacy zealots up in arms. Matt McKeon's visualization The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook drives the point home more effectively than a million pontificating editorials.

In a nutshell, they modified their Terms of Service - again - so that pretty much everything you once thought was private isn't anymore, and launched their "Instant Personalization" strategy, chockablock with clever, social-sounding features and concepts such as “open graph,” "social plug-ins" and "connections" all designed to make you feel part of something bigger and more and edgy and important.

And to save you having to so much as think about it, they signed you up (or opted you in). You can still opt out of some things if you have the time and wherewithal. You can also learn calculus, a foreign language and climb Kilimanjaro if you want to. It's just as easy.

One of the things you ought to be really grateful for, is that Facebook's new caching policy now allows developers to store their users' Facebook data permanently. So your personal data is now in the hands of any Facebook developer, presumably scrupulous, of course, even if you didn't sign up for the application. All it takes is a bored, self-obsessed friend taking yet another stupid, annoying quiz and broadcasting the results. Developers get data on friends too. You agreed to that somewhere in the fine print once. You did. You use Facebook, right?

This all ties in neatly to Facebook's new "like" strategy, which coupled with the change in privacy settings, is just about a month or an algorithm short of calculating (based on where you Foursquared you had dinner last night), exactly when you're taking a shit so Charmin can text you on your mobile to try out their new UltraSoft 2ply toilet paper, which thrillingly, happens to be the same as what your sister, your ex-boyfriend and your dentist's mother-in-law "like".

Not everyone is against it though. In fact, a lot of people "like" it so much, they think you're a petrified luddite and whiny, annoying asshole to even voice concern over this erosion of privacy that is to yours what Katrina was to New Orleans.

In a blog post titled "I Wish Facebook Was MORE Open!!!," Robert Scoble marvels how " only about 50 of my more than 1,300 friends have disappeared from my Facebook friend network." Of course when you have real friends, you tend to care more about losing 50 of them, and might have to give two seconds thought as to how to remain in touch while respecting their desire to keep their opinions to a select few.

Jeff Jarvis, who has given this a good deal of thought, seems to say a hell of a lot without appearing to grasp the most basic premise. See for yourself in a post titled "Privacy, publicness and penises," which seems to take Danah Boyd's thinking and twist it into a confusing landscape where public is private and private is less public or something to that effect but in which privacy is a casualty. I think. Boyd's research "examines social media, youth practices, tensions between public and private, social network sites, and other intersections between technology and society." If you don't know her work, it's worth your time.

Not everyone who appreciates the benefits of efficient communications technology is driven by the extreme narcissism that it enables. There are some of us who are confident and capable people who really don't think that every mundane thought is worthy of mass distribution. While a good, well-deserved shit reveals much about one's well-being, one's fiber intake and whatever else can be garnered from analyzing it, there's a reason we flush it instead of TwitPic it.

It's shit, though, that smart people seem incapable of discerning. Just like so much of what our brains fart shouldn't be reposted, retweeted, repackaged, revomited, reingested and re-regurgitated. Not everything is worthy, or in the public interest. We don't need any more digital clutter any more than we need real shit piling up.

Caring about your privacy, according to Paul Carr, on TechCrunch, generally makes you the asshole in a piece titled "NSFW: Facebook Breached My Privacy, And Other Things That Whiny, Entitled Dipshits Say." In the only intelligent sentence in a diatribe of self-aggrandizing crap, Carr claims to be "a firm believer that Facebook et al have an obligation to act to defend a person’s reasonable assumption of privacy."

Given that Carr would brand you a whiny, entitled idiot to have any reasonable privacy assumptions to begin with, the most I could garner from his privacy be damned utopia was don't do anything you don't want the whole world knowing about, or else destroy anyone or anything that might serve as evidence. And if that fails, cry and beg Facebook to help you.

Robert Scoble asks: "Just what are you doing that needs to be so damned private? Are you having sex inside Facebook? Doing illegal drugs? Cheating on your wife? Damn, your Facebook life must be SO interesting!" To which I respond: "That's the whole point. It's none of your fucking business."

More than that, it's such a specious argument - the notions that everything should be public, and if you don't want your every utterance instantly available worldwide, then don't utter anything on the Internet at all.

Sure, if there's something that is so private, the revelation of which would destroy you or a relationship or a career, then avoid sending it electronically, whether that be voice, video, photo or text or any other means on any communications device or application. In fact, avoid saying it anywhere you may be overheard, or telling anyone you don't implicitly trust.

But otherwise, just because these jackasses are willing to roll over and wallow in it all, don't give up on the idea that you can generally communicate with friends or affiliations of your choosing simply because that's what you choose. Don't give up on retracting permission when companies like Facebook change terms on you. Because Facebook may not like what you decide to do with their brand if they fuck you over enough, agreements and promises be damned. Don't give up on enjoying the promise of and distinctions among information that is publicly available versus its aggregation and the publicizing of it elsewhere, without your permission, knowledge, request or desire.

In the real world, when someone treats you like a cheap, unworthy piece of shit, you reestablish the definitions and boundaries of the relationship. An invitation to opt in to a new service or product demonstrates a respect for you as a person, and a confidence by the inviter in their product and service and the value it will add to your life.

There's a flip side to the same issue to what people like Zuckerberg and Scobie seem to be tone deaf. Interesting as Scobie may think it is, I couldn't give a flying fuck what music he listens to on Pandora or what movies he likes. Or if his father's fucking the postman, or if he has the clap.

I have enough of my own shit to sort through without having to wade through his as well wherever I go or wherever I click. If you're all that fabulous, I'll opt in.

In a Zuckerman and Scobie privacy-dead, opt-out world, they fuck you up the ass involuntarily without a condom. Because that's what you want, whether you know it or not. And if you don't like it, you better make damn sure you learn what steps you need to take to ensure it doesn't happen again, no matter how inconvenient it may be for you, how difficult it may be to do, or how long it may take. And don't even think about complaining either, you whiny, entitled dipshit.

It's not rape. It's Opt-out.

Clinton Fein can be emailed at


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