Facebook Nation: We Are All Oversharers Now

Privacy kerfuffle is a problem for old people

By Owen Thomas
|  Thursday, Dec 10, 2009  |  Updated 11:00 AM CDT
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Facebook Nation: We Are All Oversharers Now

Facebook is tweaking its privacy settings, and people are freaking out. Relax!

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That wailing of a waaaahmbulance you hear? It's flashing its siren lights for people fretting about Facebook's controversial new privacy settings.

Facebook has simplified its famously confusing privacy settings, subtly encouraging people to make their profiles and posts available to wider circles.

It's an effort to more closely mimic Twitter, which Facebook tried and failed to buy last year for a reported $500 million. On Twitter, people freely divulge personal information and share it with the entire Internet -- simply because that's what one does on Twitter.

Facebook has been hobbled by a more privacy-conscious design which limits information to designated friends and groups -- a limitation that advocates of "transparency" and "openness" like to ridicule as so last century.

Want to know what Silicon Valley thinks about your precious secrets?

"You have zero privacy anyway," said former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy in 1999. "Get over it."

Think that's bad? More recently, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

Not all technogeeks are so dismissive of the right to privacy. Security consultant Bruce Schneier recently brought up comments he first made in 2006 in response to Schmidt:

if we are observed in all matters, we are constantly under threat of correction, judgment, criticism, even plagiarism of our own uniqueness. We become children, fettered under watchful eyes, constantly fearful that — either now or in the uncertain future — patterns we leave behind will be brought back to implicate us, by whatever authority has now become focused upon our once-private and innocent acts. We lose our individuality, because everything we do is observable and recordable.

The problem with Schneier's observation is that while noble, it's outdated.

Reality TV and instant messaging have trained our rising generations to share everything, everywhere, always, in the desperate hope of getting noticed. Watchful eyes aren't a problem for them -- they're the audience that our oversharers crave.

In an age of search engines, there's no such thing as too much information -- just insufficient filters and underpowered algorithms.

So those who complain about Facebook's privacy changes are right, but their arguments are irrelevant, skewing orthogonally to the interests of Internet oversharers who are praying that their Tumblr will turn into a book deal or that their quip will get retweeted by Perez Hilton.

Schmidt, the Google CEO, has reportedly told friends not to put private information on the Internet -- while his company is pushing consumers and businesses to post all their information online.

Go ahead, click on "share with everyone." You have zero privacy anyway, right?

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