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Facebook has been in the news recently over (yet more) changes to its privacy settings, and its sharing of your personal information. If you want to know how much noise the recent changes caused, you can start here. Mark Zuckerberg has been quoted as saying that privacy is dead, quoting statistics that suggest that each year we have doubled/will double the amount of personal information we share on the internet, as if it were some Moore’s Law of personal data, ever increasing exponentially.

This is an incredibly flawed viewpoint, for a couple of reasons:

  • given the increase in sharing of personal data, I would have shared with the world everything it is possible to share fairly quickly – once I am completely transparent, I don’t have an endless supply of new “secrets” appearing … so there’s a real limit
  • and as we share more, what we DON’T share becomes more and more important

What IS changing is our threshold of privacy – what I thought was private a couple of years ago wasn’t worth sharing, maybe I think it is now; what my kids are prepared to share about themselves may be more extensive than me. But that doesn’t spell the death of privacy … it actually INCREASES the value and necessity for privacy – what we decide not to share is what we really, really want to keep private.

The other issue is control – if Zuckerberg can convince us all that we have no privacy, we will be more willing to cede control over our personal data to Facebook. But regardless of how open we are (I’m active on Twitter – virtually everything I post there is visible to the world) we still need to have control over WHAT is published, and HOW WIDELY it is published (arguments about the ease of finding stuff on the Internet notwithstanding). Facebook’s premise and promise was that it was a social network where you could share as little or as much as you wanted, and you controlled who it was shared with. That was a heady incentive to millions of people who were uncomfortable with creating an internet presence for themselves “in the wild”, and they took it up in droves. For many people, Facebook IS the Internet … and now the trap is being closed on them in this massive bait-and-switch exercise as Facebook opens up your social graph to advertisers and commercial partners – with you having NO choice in some instances how (e.g.) your “personal interests” information is used, other than to remove it completely.

As Jeff Jarvis pointed out, Facebook started out in the “relationship” business, and now wants to be in the “identity” business – these are conflicting and conflicted ambitions, and need to be denied.