Facebook: The Slightly Abusive Best Friend I Just Can’t Quit (Yet)

I have a best friend. We’ve had awesome times together–traveled to Italy, stayed up late playing poker, drunk too much red wine and laughed till we snorted together. She’s the extrovert who helps me get to know people better (she even insists on telling me about friends’ fights with their boyfriends and their children’s dirty diapers).

Every once in a while, though, this friendship makes me feel a little ill. Sometimes in the name of fun, my friend puts me down. But I’ve invested so much. I’m not ready to give up yet.

This best friend? Her name is Facebook. And the question is, how much disrespect will I put up with? Is the new location feature, Places, the final straw?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with sharing location information with my friends. So far I haven’t chosen to do it with services like Foursquare, because I didn’t see enough of a benefit. But I’ll try out Places to see what everyone’s talking about, and what developers do with it. Who knows, it could be fantastic.

My problem, however, is this: the continued lack of respect by Facebook in making me opt-out of sharing increasingly personal information–or having my friends do it for me.

How many times do we have to keep writing, Facebooking, and tweeting articles about “How to turn such-and-such setting off so you aren’t opted into sharing your information without your permission”? Remember opt-out email marketing? Yeah, that didn’t work out so well.

The thing is, we know that Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t believe in privacy. Hearsay? Yes, but as shocking as this off-the-record tidbit was, we could only be so surprised. Remember in January when the Facebook founder and CEO stated that privacy is an outdated concept?

Facebook has been moving more and more of our information into the public sphere, whether we like it or not. Why would they do that? I don’t think they’re trying to make the world a better place. Does Facebook stand to gain from these moves? Yup. Convenient, don’t you think?

My best friend wants to do everything with me, and because it’s easier, I’ve let her. So much time spent together. So many photos shared, so many messages written back and forth.

Truth is, I get used to the treatment. The disrespect and selfishness anger me sometimes, but then I settle back into complacency. I don’t want to abandon all the good stuff, and my best friend knows that. And she keeps bringing me new gifts. I like gifts.

Maybe Zuckerberg’s right. Maybe privacy is dead. After all, people were up in arms about Facebook’s news feed when it first came out, and now we all seem to love it. And maybe I’m just a Gen X fuddy-duddy. But here’s the thing: If Facebook wants to be the next Web (after we kill off the old one), what needs to stay alive is our freedom of choice.

Facebook doesn’t give us that choice. Its policy is, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.

What if a new friend came along? A friend who would help me go over to my best friend’s house when she’s not home, pack up all those mementos, and bring them over to her house for safe-keeping? And what if she’s sweet, and nice, and politely asks my permission when she wants to borrow something that’s mine?

Is there a business model for a site like that? Is such a thing even technically possible? I don’t know the answers to these questions yet. All I know is, I just might do it.

Especially if I saw my best friend’s other friends abandoning her too. If my new friend had so much charisma that we were all drawn, en masse, toward her.

Realistic? I’m not sure. I’m still addicted to this slightly abusive best friend. She’s got a strange power over me. Her treatment of me isn’t so bad, really…

But I do know this: I used to have another best friend. Her name was Friendster.

Eva Kaplan-Leiserson first fell in love with technology playing Oregon Trail on an Apple IIE in the 1980s (a passion for all things Apple remains). Her early participation in social networking include ...read more

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