Facebook, Interests, and Privacy

I’ve just been on BBC Radio Solent, speaking to the lovely Steve Harris about my views on Facebook and privacy.

If you’ve been keeping up-to-date, you’ll know that Facebook have been having something of a hard time, recently, what with Quit Facebook Day fast approaching. They’re set to announce new, simpler privacy settings this evening, and I’ll be keeping my ears open. I think Facebook have certainly been abusing their position as a makeshift Information Commissioner, for those familiar with the Data Protection Act.

Something that I think has flown completely under the radar, however, is Facebook’s radical redesign of its users’ ‘Information’ pages; a former space where you could write to your heart’s content about what you’re interested in, in whatever format you desired. All this changed a few, short weeks ago, when Facebook essentially catalogued each one of these ‘interests’ as fan pages. Essentially, you can no longer like anything without ‘Liking’ it. I think this is bad for two reasons. Firstly, it removes any notion of individualism from the site, as users are now defined by the connections that tether them to a predetermined set of interests. Confusing, right?

For example, say I like The Beatles. I don’t think this would define me absolutely, as there are many types of Beatles fans. This is obvious. I could, say, insist that I like their ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, but not their later psychedelic ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. That little difference is what defines me as a certain type of Beatles fan. It’s what signifies me as myself. Under Facebook’s new information regime, I wouldn’t be able to just type that in the ‘Music’ section of my Facebook profile. I’d only be able to include that I’m a fan of The Beatles, which doesn’t really say anything about me at all. It’s these differences in opinion, expression, and even syntax that define me as a person. Instead, I’m now forced to live my life as an all-encompassing Beatles fan. I’m forced into a convenient pigeonhole, where I define myself through a predetermined list of interests. The network has lost its dynamicism, which is a very sad thing.

Why have Facebook done such a thing, then? To move on to my second point, to further exploit us as commodities to advertisers. Thanks to this new hierarchy, Facebook now (potentially) can map out advertising reach a lot easier, by saying to advertisers, ‘Look, we’ve got X number of Beatles fans that you can advertise to!’ The new system will clearly make number crunching a whole lot easier to sell us, and our information, which some of us are unwittingly giving away.

My main gripe is that Facebook has lost its focus. When I first discovered the social network back in 2006, I was attracted to its simplicity and uniform layout, as opposed to MySpace. When Applications arrived, I balked. Slowly, Facebook has turned its users into commodities, which we can see clearly now, and we’re very, very angry.

I’m very eager to find out what Mark Zuckerberg comes out with this evening. I’ll be listening intently, probably along with the rest of the world.


5 Comments on “Facebook, Interests, and Privacy”

  1. Matt Ruddle says:

    It’s the end of the wildwest days of the internet my friend. They don’t want us to be anonymous anymore. Facebook seemed like the “safe” way for us to move from anonymous internet use to using it to connect socially. But if the stories are true that Zuckerberg described the first several thousand FB users as “dumbfucks” because they willingly gave him personal information, I don’t hold out much hope. He’s no doubt been wanting to turn the popularity of FB into money, this is the way.

    I was really pissed about the change of interests to links to fan pages, like you say it’s depressingly pigeon holed and soley there so it can be sold to advertisers. I’ve removed any/all my interests and privatised as much of my profile as I can. Lets hope the new changes lead to more clarity.

    • Aris says:

      I had no idea Zuckerberg had said such a thing. It seems to me that he’s bitten off more than he could chew. What started off as a pet project has spiralled into one of the biggest websites on the Internet. At 26, I’m not sure he’s up to the job of CEO. At the end of the day, he’s the one who has the say on how private our data really is. Is this right?

      • GoodBadGroovy says:

        Here’s the Independent article that mentions the “dumbfucks” story I mentioned.


        You raise an interesting point, as much as we sit here and talk about Facebook as this corporate giant, it was started by and is essentially still run by a university student who stole the basic concept from someone else (if the large settlements paid to two contemporary uni students are to be taken as admission of guilt). I’m not suggesting if the job was handed to someone else they would have our interests at heart any more than Zuckerberg does; but there’s a good chance they’d have more experience and there wouldn’t be the sour taste that Zuckerberg gives off. Perhaps he should step down and hand the reigns to someone with more experience?

        I’m curious to see what people’s reaction to Facebook and zuckerberg will be next year after the release of David Fincher’s “The Social Network” which will be tracing the slightly dodgy history of facebook’s beginnings.

        • Aris says:

          Shameful. At the same time, I fear for the health of Zuckerberg. It’ll be interesting to see whether Zuckerberg’s health is at all related to Facebook’s share price, ala Steve Jobs/Apple. As for handing the reins over, I can’t see how anyone can do a worse job than Zuckerberg.

          I’ve heard about the film, and am definitely interested. I’m looking forward to reading about it on your blog, perhaps.

  2. seanfsmith says:

    Facebook has been annoying me with almost every single one of its revisions: I miss the pages where you had to scroll down for years to find someone’s wall, and where everything was conveniently in one place with nobody throwing beer at me or asking me to be a vampire.
    If Facebook was meant to replicate life, if a vampire bites me to convert me, there’d be no way for me to “Shoot all messengers from this application.” Actually, I think the only thing I’ve enjoyed about its development is the chance to choose English (Pirate) as a language option.

    A while back, I noticed that a number of cyberpunk authors got the internet and its development wrong – there was a lot of focus on the entirety of it being like Second Life (what with Snow Crash prompting the creation of Second Life anyway); think of Gibson’s Matrix or Giller’s Axis.

    Instead, the internet and our online identities seem more and more shaped etherially through our words, and the way in which we put these across; think Twitter, think Tumblr, think blogging. This is a trend I see continuing, and is something that really appeals to me.

    This is a trend that Facebook is completely moving away from. It is now impossible to express yourself through words on their platform, apart from the odd little box that still noone has understood its intent. Again, probably the most successful addition in recent years.

    I logged on to Facebook this morning, and it prompted me to rubberstamp my interests and schooling to specific fanpages. I now have officially no interests nor schooling.

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