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Consumer Reports just released their State of the Net survey and it underscores the privacy hazards associated with Social Networking:

  • 40% had posted their full birth date, exposing them to identity theft
  • Around 25% of users are not aware of or choose not to use the privacy controls

Compare that to the increased chatter about Facebook’s eroding privacy policy, people deleting their Facebook account, trying to find alternatives. (Reading about Mark Zuckerberg’s pranks doesn’t help their case either.)

Facebook has slowly removed the protective walls that made all of us trust them in the first place. It’s not inherently negative that people share their lives in public. There are other sites out there that are much more revealing and by default share more with the public Web. Facebook comes across as evil because they started on the other side of the privacy spectrum, just to move users slowly to the other side where all their data becomes publicly accessible. Reminds me of the movie “The Hangover”: It starts out as a nice, communal event and ends up with tigers in your bathroom. Or a cyber-predator in your credit report.

Social Plugins and Instant Personalizer, two new features just introduced by Facebook, could provide a more personal web experience. But, in their typical, sneaky way, Facebook didn’t explain the implications, people don’t really understand how it works and the majority still don’t understand how to turn the features off. Facebook’s opt-out norm is the ultimate insult to their users and clearly communicates: We don’t care about you. We care about monetizing your data.

Nothing wrong with making money. But it’s in Facebook’s best interest to provide context to aid the user’s decision: Visually represent how many other users (or types of users) might be able to access your birth date or see your kid’s photos. Do you think anyone would post their full birth date if they knew 1,453,432 other users have access to that data? Educate everybody what these users can do with your information. Give people access to their own data and let them decide what they want to do with it. Offer me an insight into the magnitude of data I created in my account and that is being shared.

I’m very certain that Facebook will implement these changes at one point. But, given their track record, it will be too late. As of May 2010, Facebook is the 800 pound gorilla. Their selfish, self-absorbed thinking will put them on a diet very soon and shrink Facebook in size to fit into the doghouse of Social Networking. At least, they have good company with the likes of Friendster, MySpace, etc.