Facebook has once again made waves with a new (and controversial) feature that allows third parties access to users addresses and phone numbers. Naturally, the world ended with this announcement: Users complained, Twitter erupted, and boycotts were planned. Even congressmen chimed in. My take? Time to shut up.
Let’s just get the record straight on a couple things about Facebook and privacy, shall we?
Facebook isn’t “giving” anything away. You are.
If you’re like most people in the world, you’ve probably heard about Facebook giving user data away; maybe you’ve even responded with indignation like a lot of people. What you probably didn’t do is that same thing everybody else didn’t do, and that’s read the changes that Facebook was actually making. Example, here are some headlines about the story I’m writing about:
- Facebook is Going to Relaunch Giving Away Phone and Addresses
- Facebook to Give Away Your Home Address Phone Numbers to External Sites
- Facebook Gives Apps Your Phone Number And Address, No Opt Out
Now, you probably could read those headlines, skim the respective articles and go, “I hate you, Facebook!” But before you do – fret not. Others have done it for you, like these fine people on YouTube:
- Lamarr asks, “Why do they need my number?!”
- Matt complains that it’s a “quiet announcement.”
- Super Massive Atheist tells you how it is…
Here’s the thing: they’re all full of it. (Side Rant: Anybody else tired of people trying to be the first to whine about Facebook changes, and make names for themselves? Good. Glad I’m not the only one.) Here’s the reality of the situation:
1. You never have to put your phone number or real address in when signing up for Facebook. Your number never has to be on there. You can message it to your friends if you want.
2. Your stuff is never given to app developers and third parties by default. Ever. You must always, always choose to have your information shared, and it clearly tells you which parts of your information will be shared. At any point, you can say, “no.” and that information is not shared. Please note: There will be some apps that, in turn, won’t let you use their app. Why? Because it’s probably got a text messaging or geo-locating component that makes the app useless if you won’t let them touch your phone.
3. You are giving your stuff to the app for the right to use that app. Facebook isn’t giving anything to anybody. It’s frustrating to hear people blame Facebook because their stuff is being given away, when they’re the ones to give it away. This is like going to Yellowbook, and saying, “Hi! Yellowbook! I’m going to give you my contact info — but please, don’t share it with anybody unless I tell you to.” You then meet Yellowbook’s cool new social feature (Redbook?) and say, “Hey, Redbook! I want to hang out with you!” Redbook then asks you for the contact info that Yellowbook has been secretly storing. You say, “SURE!” and then look over to Yellowbook and go — “I told you never to share that!” Yeah, it’s that silly.
Facebook doesn’t charge you. That doesn’t make it free.
Information is the currency.
If you were paying $15/month for “Facebook+” and then they started filling your page with ads … you would have a right to complain. But Facebook doesn’t charge you to connect with friends, share your photos, videos, and thoughts. It’s a social networking tool that’s provided to you for zero set up or subscription fees. But please understand, this doesn’t make it free:
1) Facebook is meant to be profitable. They have a veritable ton of storage space and data transfer to pay for. They have a huge team of designers and developers. They have to pay for these things, and ultimately, yes — they want to make money, too.
2) Facebook aims to be the best network around. In order for this to happen, they want devs to create the best apps. There are a lot of opportunities when cell phone numbers and addresses are available. (See the Battle: Los Angeles app for a good example of a game using Facebook Places on your cell phone.) If Facebook didn’t allow this info to be used in apps, it would get left in the dust. For you to join in these cool experiences may not require a dime, but it might require your cell phone number.
Facebook isn’t a right to use, nor is it truly free. Your account can be suspended or deleted at any time. It may cost you some personal information. (Again, please note that you’re the one handing that information over. It’s not being taken from you.) Let’s all get on the same page and understand what Facebook is and is not trying to do.
You’ll be the wiser for it.