Postcards in Pencil

In light of the Cambridge Analytics incident and the loss of privacy on Facebook, people have been going around deleting their Facebooks, left and right, for fear that their information has been released to the world. Never mind, of course, that they willingly gave up that information. This is all Facebook’s fault, and Facebook must pay.

Take a deep breath, world. This is nothing new. We’re dealing with postcards in pencil again. For those unfamiliar with the phrase, that was the analogy used to describe email to people. It was a postcard because anyone could read what you wrote. It was in pencil because anyone could change what your wrote without leaving much of a trace. Thinking of email as postcards in pencil, would you put sensitive information there?

The issue with Facebook isn’t a new one. It was there in the days of Livejournal. It was there in the days of My Space. If you don’t think of your web space as a postcard visible to all, even with controls, you are giving your information away, not the website.

Further, if you are participating in all these memes and quizzes that ask for personal information, and just think they are fun, you are naive. Why would a free quiz want personal information?  Why would a free quiz want access to your data and information? Remember the key adage: If you are getting it for free, you are not the customer, you are the product that is being sold.

The problem is not with Facebook, per se. It is with users who did not understand what they were doing, and had the belief that there information was security … that had the belief that those applications weren’t going to use their data. They gave away their data due to their stupidity and lack of knowledge, and now want to blame someone else.

Facebook is perfectly safe to use, if and only if you treat it as 100% public. If and only if you only put information on there that can be publicly disclosed. If and only if you are constantly alert for what information you are giving out. Oh, and be forewarned, there is information you are giving out even when you aren’t entering data. Everytime you linger on an image, every time you visit a website, everytime you click to open an article, you are giving away information about your interests that will be sold. Facebook is a free service. Remember what I said about getting stuff for free.

Delete your Facebook if you want, and run away and make the same mistakes on another service. Alternatively, just perhaps, you can understand the online world and how it markets you, and be much more careful about what you say and do online.

[ETA: Of course, society and Facebook itself make it difficult to leave Facebook. Just think of all the data you would need to reenter, all those logins to third-party sites you do via FB that you would have to recreate anew (including their data), all the relationships you would need to reestablish on other services. There’s just too much inertia and friction to deal with.]

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