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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Here's how to join the Facebook backlash

Readers who maintain accounts on Facebook may have recently noticed that Mark Zuckerberg and Company continue to make unilateral changes to Facebook's privacy defaults without the consent (or in many cases, knowledge) of users.

A few days ago, on In Brief, we linked to an interactive graphic created by an IBM engineer which shows how more and more of a person's account information on Facebook has been made public by default (instead of private) over the years.

Eroding privacy on Facebook profile MoveOn has likewise created an image which starkly shows how Facebook has eroded its users' privacy.

It would be one thing if Facebook simply provided its users with greater sharing capabilities, and allowed them to opt-in and use those capabilities if they chose. But instead, Facebook has chosen to make more and more user data public, and has forced its users to opt out if they don't want to share.

It is these deceptive and manipulative practices which are now being loudly protested in seemingly every neighborhood of the Internet. On Twitter, people are contemplating leaving Facebook. Bloggers are ridiculing Facebook's Orwellian response to the concerns that have been raised. Commenters are decrying the company's inability to learn from its past mistakes.

If you are somebody who wants to join in the backlash and make your voice heard, there are several things you can do, both on and off Facebook.
Big Brother Avatar
  • Protest through your avatar. I've changed mine to the graphic you see to the right; the words "big brother" against a background of Facebook's blue hue. Feel free to copy this graphic and use it as your own avatar. Or make your own.
  • Delete all of your personal information. Edit your profile and copy the information there to your own computer, then delete all of your Activities, Interests, Favorite Books, Favorite Movies, and Favorite Television Shows, as well as workplaces and schools. Remove any relatives you have listed, erase your current city, hometown, religious and political affiliations, change your gender to "Select Sex" and do not list a dating preference. Uncheck the box that says "Show my sex in profile" and then change the dropdown menu so "Don't show my birthday in profile" is selected. Save changes.
  • Unlike groups and pages (this could take a while, if you've been in the habit of accepting invitations to be part of causes you support).
  • Sign up for Profile Watch. This application will show you just how much information you're publicly sharing on Facebook. It's a great tool for testing and validating your privacy settings.
  • Pledge not to login on June 6th. The organizers of this protest are asking those who disagree with the changes Facebook has made to its “privacy” policies to commit to not logging in or interacting with Facebook in any way.
  • Quit Facebook entirely (after doing all of the above!) A group of disaffected users are planning to deactivate and/or delete their accounts on May 31st.
  • Finally, pledge some money to Diaspora*. As I wrote last Wednesday, Diaspora* is a student-led effort to build a privacy-smart, open source, decentralized successor to Facebook, beginning this summer. It has already raised over $170,000, becoming the largest project ever to date on Kickstarter. (The original goal was only $10,000!)
If you've got a suggestion I didn't think of, feel free to leave a comment.


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