Blog Post

Updating MyThoughts on Facebook

Most of you already know, but just in case, Facebook has an application where you can create a collage of your Fb statuses from 2009.  I haven’t done it, for the simple fact that most of my posts include griping about my dissertation project, bad reality television, and my love of music (although come to think of it, perhaps that would be an interesting mix: Making a soundtrack for life. Suggestions? *Who does that on national TV?*PhDs are for the birds. Am moving home to listen to cassette tapes of 90’s Chicago House in my room, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars I put on the ceiling when I was 11. ).  It’s an interesting, one-shot all glimpse into a friend’s life that puts into sharp relief not only how your friend thinks, but also just how much of your information is actually saved.  For someone like me, who updates on a whim, sometimes several times a day, it is alarming to think that Fb would actually save all of my posts, especially when I’ve become quite lazy about remembering that someone can most always uncover an electronic trail on the “interwebs.”

This relates to the Fb quizzes, those fun little things you fill out when you’re bored (or avoiding writing your prospectus) that seem totally harmless (seriously. “Which German Philosopher are you?” can’t be all that bad. [Unless you get Nietzsche.]).  But they extract a lot of personal information from you and your friends’ pages that can be pretty alarming.  It brings to mind questions about internet safety and protection of the people who are most vulnerable to being taken advantage of: younger kids and people new to the internet.  It seems for every savvy user out there who knows not to click on the pop up ads, there are a handful more who do and then wonder why they always see ads for Fen-fen when they log onto the internet.

Regulating the internet is a sticky situation and regulation is not something I’m entirely sure is a good thing (for one, the idea of one nation-state or governing body determining what is appropriate for millions of users is a bit 1984 for me.), but it seems risky that we can never escape our past actions or thoughts, no matter how much we grow up, grow out of it, and move on.  Is it our own fault for signing on to certain sites and services without really reading the small print (Come on, now. You can’t tell me you read all of it all the time. Sometimes, you’ve got to get back to All My Children and don’t have the time to decipher legalese.)? Yes. But it’s also a slightly dodgy company practice to compile terabytes of info on each and every person that can be used against us, say when we’re famous, running for office, or just trying to live a grown up life.  Is there a middle ground?  Possibly.  But until then, it seems smart to step away from the “collage my status updates” application.

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4 comments

Can you get that much dirt on a person from their status updates?  Personally my own updates tend to be fairly safe for a wide audience, since I know they'll be broadcast to my 200+ "friends."

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I think it depends on the person. Perhaps you (and many, many others) do project a "family friendly" (for wont of a better term) status update, but there are tons of others who don't, and among those people are younger students who may or may not see the implications in throwing the f-bomb, or drunk updating when their coaches, parents, and family members are their friends.  On the less extreme level, it would seem that those of us who are more political in our updates, discussing presidential elections, liberal/conservative news media, etc., or even Marxist ideas, could run into trouble later down the line if what we upload isn't deemed "acceptable" by a future boss, company, etc. There's a tendency by many to think of these kinds of sites as our own little microcosm, but the idea that Fb is saving them in some sort of backlog, means that microcosm can be compromised.

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Saving statuses may or may not allow Facebook to glean a lot of information about you, but certainly it could be used for targeted ads if nothing more, to find trends in the types of consumer goodies you mention, perhaps.  More of a concern for me is that if you attempt to "delete" your Facebook profile, the process is actually called "deactivation," implying that even if you try to leave the site altogether, Facebook staff will probably still hold on to your information.

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you're right about deactivation and Fb's hold on your photos, statuses, etc. i have a friend who "reactivates" his profile (he deactivated so he could stop fooling around instead of writing his PhD; I would try that but productivity scares me) anytime he wants to see the photos i upload. i wonder what the policies of other networking sites, like Orkut, MySpace or even LinkedIn are in terms of this. Certainly Fb has a huge minefield of info, and we've already seen how they wield it (those targeted ads on the side of the news pages is one way). they've got to make money somehow, but it'll be interesting to see how far it'll go - and how much it will affect us.

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