Home Why Facebook Should Pass Out Less, Not More, User Info

Why Facebook Should Pass Out Less, Not More, User Info

Marshall Kirkpatrick makes a good point when he argues that Facebook should be giving out more, not less user info. And I have to say, the recent Wall Street Journal series about Internet privacy has been been more scare tactics than substance. My 67-year-old father, for example – avid Wall Street Journal fan and Internet noob – is thoroughly convinced that Facebook is full of porn and Russian mafioso.

And while I recognize that it’s probably not that important that Facebook convince my father’s demographic that Facebook is really not out to steal their personal identities and Social Security numbers, I do still think that it’s worth erring on the side of “less” not “more” when it comes to extracting user info. Because there are other demographics – by age, by profession, by politics – that have reason to pause before their clicks, their likes, their IDs are turned over to that big data repository in the sky.

As Marshall argues, this isn’t simply about advertisers being able to best gauge whether or not we want to buy a certain carbonated beverage or laundry detergent. Marshall makes a strong case for being able to take aggregate data from user profiles to be able to build cool tools and to be able to reveal interesting insights into what we think, buy, like.

But there are plenty of areas of my world in which I’d rather Facebook and Facebook developers not reveal “interesting insights.” And I gotta say, as a heterosexual woman pushing 40, my life is pretty damn vanilla. But I have a 17 year old son, and despite my repeated comments on what he “likes” (and my advice on how he can better obscure this information from his mother – and others – on Facebook) I am really reticent to see his profile opened up to advertisers, researchers, and developers.

I have to say, however, that I don’t blame Facebook entirely for this whole debacle. I have tried to give my kid lessons on how to protect his online activities from the likes of both his mother and the Feds. (For the record, Gene Simmons, my son will not be pirating your music online as he has access to plenty of your records here at home and he has never once expressed an interest in listening to them, let alone converting them to MP3 and BitTorrenting them).

But I still balk at the idea of corporations tracking – and selling our online behaviors. It isn’t simply a matter of the fear and panic that The Wall Street Journal wants to incur. It’s more the fear that every parent probably has, trying to equip their child to be good digital citizens, in a world that seems ready to exploit every click and mis-click.

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