Two points, perhaps slightly contradictory:

  • Facebook's new privacy rollout is doing users a favor.
  • "Free" may be the limit that social networks can, by and large, charge users, but it means the users aren't the customers.

I’ve been trawling the Internet for quite some time now, but there’s something I learned early on, shortly after starting my first blog (we called then web journals back then) in the 8th grade: Privacy on the Internet is as real as that magical glittery unicorn you rode in on. A lot of people, including people who should really know better, don’t seem to have that figured out yet.

UnicornBreakfastGawker’s Preferred Facebook Privacy PolicySee Gawker’s Ryan Tate:

Its new privacy policy have turned the social network inside out: millions of people have signed up because Facebook offers a sense of safety. For the last five years — as long as you're relatively careful about who you accept as your friends — what you do and say on Facebook for the most part stays on Facebook. Katie Couric's daughter first posted pictures of her famous mom dancing silly in 2006, but it took three years for them to leak to us.

“Privacy is dead, deal with it,” Scott McNealy famously said. As someone who dallied both in college journalism and gossip blogging, I will sadly testify that what privacy has existed on social networks, blogs, and in online life generally was more or less an illusion until someone wanted that information enough, or until another security hole was exposed, or until a friend decided to share your tidbit with the world, innocently intentioned or not.

Just today, the seemingly innocuous Gravatar service has a privacy hole that let one researcher correctly guess <a href=”’>10 percent of users’ e-mail addresses</a>. All the sudden, your private, online commenter identity can more easily be linked to the real you, which I’ve seen lead to real-life firings.

Even the bedrock of most of our communications, e-mail, <a href=”>flies around the Internet plain as day</a> for God’s sake. The fact that Gawker bolsters its privacy argument by saying private photos remained private for three whole years is just icing on the cake.

Facebook’s “Great Betrayal” is more of a cession to reality rather than an “anti-privacy plot”.

The more their users are aware of reality, the better they’ll be equipped to defend themselves against it. By having a glittery magical unicorn approach to privacy concerns, they were just fooling some of the press and anyone who would prefer to live comfortably rather than live with the facts.

If you’re not comfortable with it being public, it probably shouldn’t be anywhere on any of your social networks.

The second point is that, unless you’re paying, you’re probably not that important a customer. Facebook’s advertisers and, increasingly, search partners are. And you can’t search what’s mired under privacy constraints.

So if you really want to be in control of your data and privacy, pay for it. Better yet, build it: Kits like Drupal make it easy for those of at least a slightly technical bent, but there are tons of hosting services that support Fantastico which let you set up your very own website, which you control, for about $30 a year. Is that too much to ask? Well, given what you give up in usability, maybe, but I’ve been doing it, and just recently launched my own galleries where I can fine grain the privacy to my heart’s content and never have to worry about changing Terms of Service. I also use Drupal’s Activity Stream module to backup (publicly) my Tweets, delicious tags, and Google shared items in one convenient place. I even get a copy of my entire site e-mailed me to daily, so if this hosting provider pisses me off, I can move at a moment’s notice.

Try doing that with Facebook.

PS: I can’t find any documentation, but I could’ve sworn for a while that Facebook prevented users from downloading images via some Javascript tomfoolery. It would have been easily bypassable, as such measures always are, but would have made users feel better, maybe. Anyways, I can’t find any reference to it, so I may not be remembering correctly.