How Facebook is Blatantly Abusing our Trust

Posted by Nishant Shah at Jun 28, 2012 12:42 PM |
‘Don’t fix it, if it ain’t broken’ is not an adage Facebook seems to subscribe to. Nishant Shah's column on privacy and Facebook was published in First Post on June 27, 2012.

Facebook is just re-emerging from the controversies around how it conducted the voting on its new privacy policies, when it goes and digs itself deeper by trying to push down its email services down the throats of its users. If you have recently logged-in to Facebook, you will have received a notification that says that you have been ‘gifted’ with a free Facebook email account.

However, that is a later phenomenon. A couple of days ago, the whole community of Facebook users went about their usual way, without knowing that something substantial had changed.

Facebook, who launched their email service as a part of their social networking empire, with or without your consent, has given us a ‘[email protected]’ email account. I know free things are considered good, but not an email account that I did not sign up for!

And to make things worse, this email account was, without our consent, added to our time-line and displayed as the primary email address.

In itself, it is a small move – with the redesign of the Timeline, Facebook had already introduced many such forced disclosures and changes that most of just had to accept, even if it might have had us fuming. However, with this change, Facebook has now started showing exactly what it can do in building your public profile and creating information about you, without your consent.

In their lame PR spiel, the company tried to pass it off as a freebie that they were gifting their users. But anybody who was not born yesterday realises that this is a desperate attempt to make a floundering service work.

Facebook messaging may work despite the clunky user interface, but its email services remain terribly underused. One of the paradoxes for this lies in the fact that you cannot open a Facebook account without a primary email account with another service, which is used as your authentication as well as the system through which Facebook notifications work.

Thus, many times, when introducing Facebook to first-time users of the web, we have to first train them in creating and using an email account before they can get on to the social network.

Hence, when Facebook did offer users the option of using a Facebook email service, most of them politely declined because nobody in their right mind is going to migrate to new a email services unless there was a substantial range of benefits being offered.

So how did Facebook respond? It just forced the email service upon its millions of users. While this is no different from the other kind of restrictions that are imposed upon us within the Facebook universe – the advertisements we see, the design and layout, the insipid white-and-blue background, the kind of information we can and cannot share and display – etc. this is the first time that Facebook actually added to our information profile and displayed it to the public.

Which means, that the next time somebody looks you up on Facebook – and let’s face it, one of the things we all use Facebook for, is to find people we know and get connected with them – they will see your Facebook email id listed as your contact address. And while you might get a notification in your primary email about any mails that you receive in your Facebook account, the fact is that, all those emails will become a part of Facebook’s huge data farms.

In a move that is almost a pale imitation of Google’s growing monopoly over our private information, Facebook seems to be now looking to expand its data empires. However, while Google did it through strategic design and marketing, offering innovations and incentives for its users to use their services, Facebook seems to have decided to build a Trojan horse and sneak these services in through the back door.

While this might not seem a big deal right now, it has deeper repercussions for what this corporate behemoth can do, not only with our data, but also to our data that we think is actually our own.

If your alarm bells aren’t already ringing, they should be, as Facebook demonstrates a blatant abuse of the trust that we have put in its system, to keep our private data safe.

The million dollar question – or maybe a slightly reduced price, given its public listing status on the stock-exchange right now – is that while Facebook might keep us safe from other people using our data, will it also be able to keep us safe from itself?

Read the original here