Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: facebook (page 1 of 2)

Mark Zuckerberg will always be in charge of Facebook

Matthew Yglesias explains how Facebook’s ownership structure insures that if he so chooses, Mark Zuckerberg will have complete control over Facebook for the rest of his life. I find that fascinating:

To purchase a share in Facebook is to bet that at some future point some future person will want to take it off your hands for more money. You’re not getting even a notional slice of control in the company. There are no limits on the CEO’s ability to channel Facebook’s profits directly into his own pocket rather than yours. There’s not even a cheap-talk promise that he’s going to try to maximize the value of your investment. He created the company, he controls the company, he will always control the company, and he’s graciously allowing you to turn some of your working capital over to him.

Facebook is on the Web but not of the Web

It’s becoming increasingly clear that while Facebook is a Web site, they don’t want to join the other Web sites in the pool we know as the Web. Anil Dash has the details and a way to encourage Facebook to change its behavior. First, he makes the case that Facebook is encouraging to drive its users away from the larger Web:

Facebook has moved from merely being a walled garden into openly attacking its users’ ability and willingness to navigate the rest of the web. The evidence that this is true even for sites which embrace Facebook technologies is overwhelming, and the net result is that Facebook is gaslighting users into believing that visiting the web is dangerous or threatening.

This is, to me, the latest front in the battle over for users on the Web. Ultimately, Facebook wants users to view ads on Facebook pages, not on your Web site. Furthermore, they want to be able to observe the behavior of their users wherever they go in order to serve up ads that users are more likely to click on. Publishers want access to Facebook’s user base. Currently, Facebook is forcing them to give up an awful lot in order to get it, but hopefully that can be changed.

It’s for these sorts of reasons that I sort of passively resist Facebook. I am still using Facebook only in Chrome’s Incognito mode so that they can’t track me across the Web, and I still refuse to use services that require you to sign in using a Facebook account. I just don’t want to cede more control to Facebook.

Managing my mistrust of Facebook

Like a lot of people, I don’t trust Facebook. A lot of people deal with that by deleting their Facebook accounts, but I don’t want to do that. A lot of friends and family members post their photos to Facebook, so I need an account if I want to see them. It’s also the main way to keep in touch with certain people. That’s Facebook’s hook for the skeptical — they know you like other Facebook users more than you hate Facebook itself.

I have never liked it when you go to a page that’s not a Facebook page and it shows your picture and which friends have liked that page already. That provides no value to me as an end user, but it certainly provides value to Facebook. They track your activity using those buttons whether you click on them or not.

This weekend I learned that when you log out of Facebook, you don’t actually log out of Facebook. They still track wherever you go on the Web. That, for me, was the final straw. I logged out of Facebook and deleted all of my Facebook cookies manually.

From now on, when I want to visit Facebook, I’ll be using the private browser setting in whatever browser I’m using. For Google Chrome, that’s Incognito mode. For Firefox, you use Private Browsing. Safari supports Private Browsing as well. It seems like putting Facebook in jail is the only way to keep it from tracking you everywhere you go on the Web, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Update: Facebook has addressed the logout issue. You can decide whether it has been fixed to your satisfaction.

We should be afraid of Facebook

First, I started seeing more and more Web sites with Facebook like buttons on them. Then I saw Facebook widgets that showed my friends’ activity when I visited third party sites. Now, I’m seeing lots of blogs switch over their comments to use Facebook as a third party comments system. In the meantime, I’m seeing more and more people use Facebook to host images and video, and even Facebook as a URL shortener. Today, Nelson Minar commented on the fact that Facebook is taking over single sign on.

Here’s his warning:

The problem is that Facebook is creating a monopoly. That’s a huge risk to every other company on the Internet. It’s bad for users too, we’re losing the ability to use pseudonyms online. And while Facebook’s technical execution is excellent the company has demonstrated over and over again its willingness to act unethically towards their users. We don’t want them controlling user identity.

In my opinion, Facebook is more like the old, proprietary AOL that it is like the Web. When you put content on Facebook, it’s walled off from the rest of the Web, and yet I see more and more people and worse, organizations, as the repository for their photos and so forth. There’s no doubt that Facebook makes it easy to do that sort of thing, but I don’t think it’s too smart to turn your valuable work over to them to take care of. And if you publish a blog, I certainly don’t think it’s a good idea to turn your users over to Facebook to manage, either.

I just don’t trust those guys.

Why Facebook launched the Open Compute Project

Marco Arment’s theory on why Facebook “open sourced” their data center design via the Open Compute Project makes a lot of sense to me:

My best guess is that this is primarily for recruiting engineering talent. There’s no shortage of engineers, but there’s always a shortage of great ones, especially in Silicon Valley. Google has been a talent vacuum for a long time since it’s so appealing for most engineers to work there.

With this move, I think Facebook is telling the geek world that they’re just as big and serious of a tech company as Google, and if you want to work on large-scale, interesting engineering challenges that affect hundreds of millions of people, you should work at Facebook.

Finding value in Facebook

Tim Bray on making Facebook work:

My hypothesis is that Facebook works great when you’re only friends with people who, when they post pictures of their kids, you actually want to look at them. Or, as someone said over dinner tonight, with people who you’d walk across a bar to talk to if you saw them.

Pushing the boundaries of privacy

Tim O’Reilly argues that the nature of privacy is changing, and that it would be worse for companies not to experiment in that realm than it is for companies like Facebook to push those boundaries and occasionally run into trouble:

The world is changing. We give up more and more of our privacy online in exchange for undoubted benefits. We give up our location in order to get turn by turn directions on our phone; we give up our payment history in return for discounts or reward points; we give up our images to security cameras equipped with increasingly sophisticated machine learning technology. As medical records go online, we’ll increase both the potential and the risks of having private information used and misused.

We need to engage deeply with these changes, and we best do that in the open, with some high profile mis-steps to guide us. In an odd way, Facebook is doing us a favor by bringing these issues to the fore, especially if (as they have done in the past), they react by learning from their mistakes. It’s important to remember that there was a privacy brouhaha when Facebook first introduced the Newsfeed back in 2006!

It’s a well-considered post, but I think he lets Facebook off a little too easily. To me, Facebook has committed one cardinal sin: expanding access to information that has already been posted without getting permission from users. If I post a photo to Facebook and only my friends can see it, those are the only people who should ever be able to see it, unless I give Facebook permission to show it to more people. Any other course of action is hostile to users, and Facebook and other sites deserve to be pilloried for making those kinds of mistakes.

Why you have to keep an eye on Facebook

Matt McKeon has created an amazing infographic showing exactly how Facebook has come to open up information people post to a wider and wider audience over time. This is the reason why so many people are linking to Dan Yoder’s 10 Reasons to Delete Your Facebook Account. The problems with Facebook have been exacerbated by the fact that for many people, it’s their first read/write experience online.

I’ve been deciding what I do and don’t want to share with other people online for 25 years, since I started dialing up BBSes on a 300 baud modem. It shouldn’t be any surprise that I don’t post anything on Facebook, really. I do keep my account though, and I’ll explain why. A few months ago I got a message on Facebook from a guy who went to college with a high school friend of mine. He was trying to get in touch with my friend, and I guess had remembered my name, or came across my profile on Facebook, or something. I really don’t know. But if Facebook didn’t exist, or had I not been on it, maybe “Farmer Ted” and “Beaker” wouldn’t have gotten back in touch, and that would be sad. So I stick with my minimal Facebook presence, even though I don’t really care for the site.

Why stickiness is obsolete

Chris Dixon explains why Facebook isn’t making more money:

Facebook has tons of visitors but they generally come to socialize, not to buy things, and they rarely click on ads that take them to other sites. Facebook is like a Starbucks where everyone hangs out for hours but almost never buys anything.

The thing that’s most telling is that the ads you see on Facebook are almost always very low quality ads.

Earn fake money shilling for health insurers

Business Insider has an interesting story on health insurance companies paying Facebook users in FarmVille currency to contact Congress opposing health care reform. Pretty amazing on any number of levels. Via Waxy.

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