Lordy. It's hard to spend but a week surfing the Internet without seeing a group of people getting caught up in a situation that they've volunteered themselves into. And it would be remiss of me to go a single sentence further without mentioning the latest elephant in the room--Facebook.
I can't log into Facebook without seeing a growing number of my friends joining those silly little, "Facebook is opening up my entire life and I wish it was like it was back in 2005" groups/fan pages/whatever we're calling them now. But Dave's Comrades aren't the only ones joining in on the fun--tech pundits Jason Calacanis and Peter Rojas, amongst others, are nuking their accounts in protest as well! It's a Facebook meltdown!
Unlike the open-source world, where the concept of "something for nothing" is pretty widely understood and accepted--even by those that just download away and never contribute a single iota of code or absent thought to an application's development--the general Internet populace seems pretty peeved at an otherwise free service's attempts to branch out its offerings. This, in turn, leads to a stronger advertising platform and/or additional service expansions, but mainly the former. Facebook ain't charity, after all--the company has human overhead and server costs, to name a few, and it's not as if every status update magically conjures up a shiny nickel for Mark Zuckerberg.
Privacy is an important function of everyday Internet life. I don't really want my friends, coworkers, and business associates knowing all that I do on the Web (it's safe for work, I promise). However, it's not as if Google Chome itself is transmitting this information. For the benefit of having a number of my friendships and acquaintances in one central, easy-to-access-location, it's only fair that said service--Facebook--be allowed to monetize its platform in some way related to the information I choose to input into the service.
Now, the argument can be made that Facebook's latest additions--the increased information its sharing with third-party providers, if not the public at large--aren't exactly the most well-thought-out of changes. And judging by the litany of, "how to privatize your Facebook, no really" articles I've seen lately, it's not as if the company has truly had the best interests of its users at heart in its quest to tangentially expand its user base and bank account.
But here's the deal: Users voluntarily opt into Facebook. The cost, to you, is zero. Furthermore, a number of Facebook's privacy quirks are elements that you, yourself, control. A large chunk of Facebook's latest "Open Graph" concept revolves around the premise of you "liking" things you see on the Web. These objects, in turn, get automatically slapped into your profile--as well, logging into a site using your Facebook credentials opens up parts of your profile for marketing and advertising use by said entity.
The simple solution? Use Facebook for Facebook: Don't use the site as a quick intermediary for accessing other sites. Don't upload elements you wouldn't otherwise want to show or shout to the world. And, for Heaven's sake, don't click "Like" on anything. I can't stress this enough: The Internet only knows the information you choose to show it.
Can you really fault a company for trying to monetize open data? I suppose so, especially when information that was once private suddenly becomes open to the world at-large. But it's up to users to stay on the cutting edge of whether their less-than-savory status updates are suddenly Google fodder--especially when the service they're using to throw their lifestyles into the digital ether is... completely... free.
You're not so much biting the hand that feeds you when you give Facebook the information it uses to hack you off; At the very least, however, you should be ready to dodge the next, perceived Facebook slap to privacy before it stings you right in the face. Their court; their rules--it's just a shame that so many people are abandoning years' worth of memories instead of stepping up and controlling their own digital destinies. I'll miss my departing Facebook friends; I'll miss their shared memories of our college lives even more.
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software.