Moral Melbourne: Facebooking the Facts
Facebook is pretty much my girlfriend. I spend a lot of time on her. She annoys me with the constant question "what's on your mind?". She reads all my stuff and wants to know what my friends are doing. Now every time I go somewhere she wants me to 'check-in'. Hey I know I agreed to this relationship, but for goodness sake can I please get SOME privacy!?
So the question on everyone's status is whether Facebook is being unethical with the info they have on us. Here's the deal. Facebook is a free service. The conditions of this service are that you submit basic information about yourself and are aware that your activity will be used for marketing purposes. No secrets there. Those who don't like this deal can either not sign up, or delete their existing account. The latter option allows you to at least discontinue adding personal information to the Facebook database. There aren't a lot of people inclined to take either of these ways out because...well, it's just inconvenient.
Sure, Facebook has been a bit naughty in some senses. They track websites you click onto from your Facebook login and tell others you did this. They change their privacy settings without always announcing it in a comprehensive way. They even use photos listed as 'public' on Facebook, within the context of Facebook, to promote other things on Facebook. All of these practices have been subject to assertive feedback from savvy users worldwide. Hence the company has adjusted their practices to the reactions they received. Hey, it's in their interests to keep everyone on board. Users are becoming more aware of to what to expect anyway.
Facebook is a pioneer in this new world of social media. They are going to be on the edge of ethics sometimes because they are first to explore the territory. Yes, we have to be aware that with all the information they have on so many people there is horrific potential for corruption and abuse. Whether you are willing to take that risk for the lifestyle it provides you is your choice alone. Thousands of people are killed or injured in car crashes every year, but we take that chance because cars make our lives better. In the context of that, having a few of your instant chat messages in the hands of an advertiser doesn't seems all that sinister.
On the whole, Facebook is a revolution to our social lives that comes at your discretion. For a free service at the forefront of pushing social media practice, overall, they are pretty damn good. For us users, it involves being informed about their privacy settings and how they use their data. None of which is unavailable to us. So next time you read a news article about some Aussie law student being 'shocked' at Facebook's practices, just assume he has a lot of time on his hands and probably not a lot of FB friends.