Facebook’s attempt to take over the Web
Facebook seems intent on taking over the Web. And with 400 million users, that notion isn’t delusional fantasy.
Its recent changes have opened up connections to a variety of sites, as its Like button is making appearances on such high-traffic sites as CNN and IMDb.com. The goal seems benign: Allow users seamless integration to connect their favorite sites to their Facebook pages.
The problem, however, is the default setting on your Facebook pages are now set wide open. Software developer Matt McKeon created an eye-catching visuallization to demonstrate how Facebook’s notion of privacy has evolved over the years. Several privacy advocates, including the well-respected Electronic Frontier Foundation, have sounded the alarm about Facebook’s changes.
Such linkages open your personal likes, dislikes, and profile information to many eyeballs, even if you want to set your pages to a close circle of friends. The other day, I encountered this must-do screen on my profile page.
Facebook has eliminated the ability to create a page that’s just for your friends. As the site notes on the subsequent page: “If you don’t link to any Pages, these sections on your profile will be empty.”
Fine. Caveat emptor. If I’m going to be on the Internet, I ought to be savvy enough to understand that what I put out there is for the world to see.
But as new-media watcher Jeff Jarvis noted in an excellent post about the privacy hubbub, Facebook is missing the point. Facebook’s allure has been the idea that we are creating our own circles; we share with a given set of people — not the entire Internet. These changes have eliminated that possibility, and they’ve taken the control out of the user’s hands.
The larger issue is that Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are making these changes without consensus. And it seems the ones primarily benefitting from this change are Zuckerberg, his site, and his pocketbook.
He is betting people love Facebook so much that they won’t want to go elsewhere for their social networking.
But his calculation misses a critical point: The sense of a greater good is the foundation of the Internet. Craiglist began as a nonprofit, to provide a way to sell and swap items cheaply on the Internet, and to this day remains largely free for its users. Wikipedia continues as a nonprofit, supported by thousands of dollars in donations and 91,000 volunteer writers and editors. Even Twitter, with its venture-capital pedigree, has taken baby steps toward a business model, wanting to make sure it doesn’t alienate its millions of users.
The tides of technology change quickly. Just two years ago, Myspace had more users than Facebook. Internet Explorer dominated the browser market. And Apple could do no wrong.
Now, Facebook is tops. Internet Explorer has dropped below 60 percent of the browser market, its lowest point in years. And Google’s Android system is making inroads on the iPhone, while BlackBerry remains the smartphone of choice.
If Facebook continues its hubris, it is likely to be the next endangered giant.