Facebook Privacy is a Balancing Act
McDonald's coffee was about five degrees hotter than the high end of proper--primarily a response to customer demand that the coffee be fresh and piping hot--but the reality is that the woman could just as easily have received third degree burns had McDonald's served the coffee 10 degrees cooler, or by spilling coffee on herself virtually anywhere that coffee is served. I checked the temperature of the coffee from my coffee maker at home and found it to be 175. I guarantee that if i spill that in my lap there will be some painfully uncomfortable results.
Complaining that McDonald's coffee is too hot is like complaining that a scoop of ice cream at Baskin Robbins is too cold. Is it the responsibility of McDonald's, or any business for that matter, to modify products or practices to cater to a minority even though the market and customer demand don't support it?
This brings us back to Facebook. Privacy is subjective. What is appropriate, or how much is too much is a matter of personal opinion and comfort levels--especially where the goal is to share information. The simplest solution to achieve privacy is to not voluntarily share information, so any use of social networking requires some sort of compromise.
Obviously, there are many who are uncomfortable with Facebook privacy policies, and the impact that recent changes have had on the distribution and transparency of personal information. However, with membership approaching half a billion users and still growing, it does not seem that those parties are necessarily in the majority. Should Facebook cease innovation or expansion of its business model to cater to those concerns?
I have said it before, and I will reiterate it here--I do feel Facebook should implement new practices to be more open about upcoming features rather than simply springing them on users, and that Facebook should disclose the implications of using the new features and make them opt-in by default. Doing so would stifle much of the criticism Facebook is currently dealing with, and most likely have little impact on its bottom line because a majority of users will still accept the risk and opt to use the new service.
The issue of personal information online extends well beyond Facebook, and the solution comes down to user education and user awareness. That means that entities like Facebook have to be up front with users about how data will be used, and IT administrators need to ensure that users are aware of the potential issues of putting information online.
Those who take sleeping pills should understand that the pills will make them sleepy. Those who drink coffee should understand that it's a hit beverage with potentially painful results if it comes in contact with skin. And, those who use social networking should understand that information will be shared. In all cases, the vendor needs to be clear about the risks, but the user is ultimately responsible for accepting that risk.