Facebook / old school

An open letter to Facebook.

If I were to work for Facebook, I would advocate for some critical changes in product features.  I need to point no further than a great article on Wired as to why what I’m about to write is important:

Proposed Privacy Law Demands Court Warrants for Cloud Data

Facebook is mentioned specifically in the article.  The interesting thing is, if there’s a push to restrict snooping by government into the cloud without a warrant, then it probably means that it’s already a problem.

So, how can companies like Facebook become an advocate for the common citizen instead of becoming a quasi domestic surveillance arm of the government?

I believe that can happen by starting with some self criticism. Self criticism can be the most powerful agent for positive change and product improvement.  I apply that belief first and foremost to myself.  And, of course my employer. I’m usually quiet about my self imposed high standards, but from time to time I feel a public statement must be made.  This blog posting is one such public statement.  Something inside me has given me an obligation to post this blog.

I think the presumption of privacy in the U.S. is fading fast.  And I think it’s a tragedy.  It’s common for companies to justify things like GPS tracking with logic such as

“We don’t have privacy any more anyway, so what’s the difference?”

Product managers at those companies don’t seem to understand that the U.S. legal system was based on a presumption of privacy.  Rationalizing products into being that threaten that privacy is, in my opinion, dangerous.

Mobile engineers and product managers have a responsibility to insist on a higher standard of privacy to protect people from unscrupulous snoopers.

So, here is an open letter I sent to Facebook as feedback for their Friendship Pages feature.  Mark Z., if I sound harsh, it’s because I feel frustrated that I can’t embrace Facebook as much as I would like to. And I suspect I’m not alone.  I sent the following to Facebook on their feedback form for Facebook Friendship pages just now.

I have chosen to reproduce only part of my feedback here in this public forum.  I’ll let Facebook employees decide how much of the extended version they want when they read my feedback.  What I’m trying to do is generate some honest debate about product features:

I appreciate the work that has gone into friendship pages, but ….

I want you to realize how much angst you put into my mind with your new “features” like Friendship pages? and GPS tracking. GPS is another issue, but this message is about friendship pages.

I don’t know if I can send a message to a good friend of mine without other people watching it on “friendship pages.” How rude of you to leave me with that impression. You may not think you did, but you did.

it’s left me with the impression that messages to one of my friends may be seen my other friends of mine, perhaps mutual friends.

I don’t want this.

Just because you CAN develop a social feature into Facebook, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

I feel Facebook has a responsibility to protect user privacy, and build features that strengthen the presumption of privacy.  Nice words that indicate you’ll safeguard things are no safeguard at all when they seem contrary to the features actually implemented in your products and the language in your EULAs.

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