“Privacy” (capital ‘P’) is an ideal, very much like “Democracy” (capital ‘D’)

Let me begin by qualifying that I am simply a Facebook user. I have no vested interest in Facebook whatsoever.

This posting is in response to all the “Facebook is evil” rhetoric I’ve been reading lately with respect to their latest changes to their “privacy policies.”

I don’t think people have their facts straight regarding how Facebook handled the change to their new privacy policy with respect to existing users. When I logged in the other day I was presented with a screen that let me know there was a new privacy policy and that I needed to review my settings. While I was given the option to “open up” everything, all of the radio “buttons” defaulted to “keep my settings as they are/were.” Needless to say, I like keeping my Facebook information limited, for the most part, to my friends, so I reviewed my settings and left everything as it was. I’m sure when someone creates a new account on Facebook the default privacy settings will be to open everything to the search engines (can you really blame them), but I’m sure even new users will be able to enforce the same restrictions I have on my account.

On the topic of privacy in general…

What really “grinds my gears” is why people get pissed off about privacy with respect to Facebook or any other on-line social network. I like using Facebook; it provides me a service that I have come to see as valuable. However, I know there are risks; not just with Facebook, but with almost any on-line social network. It seems to me that Facebook’s only responsibility is to tell me what they are doing with my information and give me the capacity to “opt-out” if I so desire. Ultimately, the responsibility to protect my privacy is my responsibility. I learned, long ago, that one should not put anything on-line, in any form, that one would not want shared with the universe. Anyone who really thinks Facebook has become evil should not only stop posting to Facebook, they should close/cancel their account entirely. After all, voyeurism would be disingenuous. I would applaud anyone who, for the sake of principle, stops using Facebook entirely. Anyone who does so should let me know. My bet… This will be a VERY SMALL list.

Perhaps I am a fool, but I’m no more worried using Facebook that I am using GMail, my iPhone, or Microsoft Exchange.

For me, “Privacy” (capital ‘P’) is an ideal, very much like “Democracy” (capital ‘D’). Conceptually, I think we all believe we would really like Privacy and Democracy. Unfortunately, neither is actually achievable in reality, and it is our individual responsibility to work to protect both; first for ourselves, then for everyone else.

E-mail is the original “social network”

Facebook –  LinkedIn – MySpace – Plaxo – Twitter. What do these have in common aside from the fact they are all wildly successful? Simple… Each of these are important players in the latest 21st century craze, forever to be known as “social networking.” I am a huge fan of Facebook. I don’t know about you, but I love getting “Facebooked” by random friends, family members,  and/or business associates from my past. Once or twice per week I get one of those “Random Person has requested to add you as a friend on Facebook” e-mails.

I’m in the business of making e-mail a safe and more productive tool. Part of my job is to consider questions like “Why is Facebook so great and why do so many people use it?” After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that Facebook has succeeded in providing more than simply a nice social networking environment. Thanks to Facebook’s “opt-in by request only” nature, people are able to connect and communicate one-to-one (and in some cases one-to-many) with only those people they have authorized. I know many people who have stopped using traditional free e-mail services like Gmail and Yahoo, and instead use Facebook to communicate with friends and colleagues. I ask these people why they have abandoned e-mail and in all cases the answer has been the same. “Facebook is easy to use, is safe from threats, and is spam free.”

I do not know anyone that works for Facebook. However, if I did, I would certainly compliment them on creating the secure communications channel that e-mail could have been.

This brings me to the explanation of the title of this posting…

In my opinion, e-mail is the original “social networking” tool. To quote George Lucas, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” in a pre-Facebook, pre-LinkedIn world; there was e-mail. Before the “bad guys” and “marketing guys” messed up e-mail, it was a great tool for managing your social network of friends and business associates. Unfortunately for e-mail, there is no built-in concept of “opt-in by request only” functionality. In fact, with e-mail, there is virtually no built-in security whatsoever.

As the original “killer app,” for e-mail to maintain its undisputed role as the most important communications medium since the telephone, it seems clear to me that e-mail needs to be “upgraded” at least to a security level equal to that of other major social networking tools.