The High Price of Facebook

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Lyons

You pay for it with your privacy.

If you don't spend your days glued to tech blogs, you might not know about the latest trend among hipster techies: quitting Facebook. These folks, including a bunch of Google engineers, are bailing out because Facebook just changed its rules so that much of your personal profile information, including where you work, what music you like, and where you went to school, now gets made public by default. Some info is even shared with companies that are special partners of Facebook, like Yelp, Pandora, and Microsoft. And while there are ways to dial back on some of this by tinkering with your privacy settings, it's tricky to figure out--intentionally so, according to cynics.

The fear is that people are being lured into Facebook with the promise of a fun, free service, and don't realize that they're paying for it by giving up loads of personal information. Facebook then attempts to "monetize" one's data by selling it to advertisers that want to send targeted messages.

Most folks using Facebook have no idea this is happening. Even if you're very tech-savvy and do know what the company is up to, you still have no idea what you're paying for Facebook, because people don't really know what their personal data is worth.

The biggest problem, however, is that the company keeps changing the rules. Early on, you could keep everything private. That was the great thing about Facebook--you could create your own little private network. Last year, the company changed its privacy rules so that a lot of things--your city, your profile photo, the names of your friends--were set, by default, to be shared with everyone on the Internet. Sure, you could change everything back and make it private. But most people probably didn't bother. Now Facebook is going even further by insisting that unless you agree to make things like your hometown, interests, and friends' names public, then you can't list them at all.

The whole kerfuffle is a misunderstanding, according to Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of communications and public policy. In his version of events, the company is simply making changes to improve the service it provides to users by giving them more "granular" control over what they share, and if people don't share information they have a "less satisfying experience. …