How Facebook Could Solve Its Privacy Problem

How Facebook Could Solve Its Privacy ProblemIf Facebook Were Smart…

If Facebook were smart and open and meant what it said about the benefits of publicness and transparency that it now expects of the rest of us, then:

* Today’s company all-hands meeting about privacy would be public.

* It would find the Apple-elegant way to express its privacy policy rather than its current Talmudic tangle, something like: “Everything you put into Facebook is shared with your friends but in each case you may limit who sees it or choose to share it with the public. That is always your choice.”

* It would find the Apple-elegant way for us to execute that choice: let me make it every time I do something.

* It would find easy ways to show us how the world sees us through Facebook (and help us change that).

* It would not change its privacy settings and policies constantly. Set it. Explain it. Stick with it.

* It would not attempt to hoover up and share my implicit activity on the web. It should share only that which I explicitly choose to share. Execs should recognize that that’s what set users off; that was the line too far, the straw too many.

* It would recognize how much their defaults matter because, even if their privacy policies and functionality were elegant, they know most of us wouldn’t bother – and many of their users are young and not necessarily savvy about how their information can be used in the future. They would see their defaults as a responsibility.

* It would define evil. I said that on the latest This Week in Google: Google, by enabling its employees to ask whether it is evil, defines evil every day and that’s only for the good of its business: If it oversteps a line, if it does evil, it will lose trust and lose business. Facebook must make the similar calculation. It should define that line openly and let us and their employees challenge it constantly.

* It would use today’s meeting as an opportunity for soul-searching, enabling employees and unhappy (would-be) former users to criticize and thus help Facebook find its way.

* It would open-source and federate and put in users’ control any data and functionality about their identity online. That is, it should use open-source standards. It should allow me to extract and host my own identity and data. It should enable other companies to build atop this, with my consent.

* Facebook should decide whether it is in the relationship or the identity business and should learn that trying to be in both put it in conflict with itself and us. It was and likely needs to stay in the relationship business and that is precisely why it can’t become the host and publisher of our public identities.

* As I suggested here, it should study 16th century history about the origins of the public and private and understand that it is playing with bigger, more powerful and profound forces than even it knows. I just wrote in my next book that we are undergoing a similar shift in how society organizes itself with similar tools. Mark Zuckerberg says that he is enabling big change in society. I say examine that belief.

Facebook is smart. That’s why I remain surprised that it is blundering so. When Peter Rojas killed his Facebook identity (as Leo Laporte did last night on TWiG), he said in a Twitter conversation we had that Facebook may be blinded to its problems by its meteoric growth; it can’t see people leaving for all the people joining. I think he has a point. Any and every company would be wise to hear from unhappy and former customers, no matter how many new customers they have.

And they should do it in public.

Jeff Jarvis blogs about media and news at Buzzmachine.com. The author of What Would Google Do? (HarperCollins 2009), Jarvis is associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at ...read more

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