Privacy? Please.

Facebook is in a lose-lose situation when it comes to our privacy. On the one hand, the website can’t seem to shake the perennial privacy leak, which must be the fault of either the company itself or one of its applications. However, when Facebook tries to provide user-customization of privacy settings, critics and users alike get all in a tizzy about the complexity of the new interface! Well, Facebook, I know we’ve had our disagreements in the past, but this one goes out to you.

Let me lay it out clearly for the privacy-paranoid among us. Straight from Facebook itself: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” No part of this mission statement should give anyone the impression that anything uploaded to Facebook will stay hidden from anyone. Therefore, if you upload any information to Facebook, you should expect it to be networked to others.

And yet, somehow people are still surprised when their information is shared with parties they don’t personally know. Just this past Monday, Facebook announced that certain applications (including Farmville and Mafia Wars; sorry high school students) have been distributing user IDs (UIDs) to advertisers in a way that violates Facebook’s privacy policy. If we gloss over the debate that is still playing out, we can get right to its obvious conclusion: Users feel as though Facebook is a giant, unfeeling corporation that lusts for profit, Facebook apologizes and unrolls a new privacy policy, everyone complains about the complexity of the new policy (which may be simpler than the previous one) and the issue lies fallow until the next big stir.

I could go into great detail about how the UIDs only let advertisers see who is using apps without disclosing any information the user has designated as private or even “friends only.” However, that would only be confronting and legitimizing the entitlement to privacy that both Facebook and its users promote.

It shouldn’t be Facebook’s responsibility to manufacture privacy. If you want to keep something about your life private if you want to keep a potential employer from seeing that picture of your kegstand from that time you went to Mexico then don’t post it on Facebook. Facebook should be a place where we may revel in what is shared in our community instead of a place where we create intricate labyrinths of privacy settings to confuse and head off our supposed friends. And don’t pretend that having to censor what you put on Facebook somehow makes the social interactions there inauthentic. Facebook is already the standard for cheap inauthentic communication between friends.

But while I’m here atop my pulpit passing down judgment as swiftly as H-Po officers descending upon a Good Sam call, let me not exclude Facebook from this trial. You see, we wouldn’t even have this problem in the first place if Facebook hadn’t initially decided to take on the Herculean task of managing user privacy.

It could be debated whether or not regulating privacy was a sound business practice, but that question is largely irrelevant now there’s no going back. Their current actions do nothing to help their plight, however. By becoming habitually reactive to consumer concerns instead of proactive about defining strict privacy definitions, Facebook has distorted itself into incongruous layers of networks and groups and lists that entirely disfigure the appearance of the social network itself.

Facebook is a mediating agent. It is a line of communication that connects you to anyone you want to talk to (as well as those you don’t). As such, it must excuse itself from any involvement in what kind of information is sent through it (excepting cases in which the law is being violated). We must take responsibility for what we decide to put on the Internet, but this responsibility won’t come until we accept that due to the ease with which it can be shared, any information on the Internet eventually will be shared.

By responding to our sweeping fear of insecurity, Facebook has enabled us to construct elaborate fortresses of solitude that would daunt any would-be infiltrator, be it a data mining corporation or that creepy guy in your 12. As we increase the size of the maze we build around ourselves, though, we inevitably lose touch with what is outside the maze until the day our fortresses eventually fall the inevitable fate of all fortresses. The only thing in question here is whether or not we will like what we find in the ruins.

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