Opting Out

Facebook recently announced another round of changes to its privacy policy that’s got some folks concerned. The short version, for those who prefer not to follow links, goes something like this: a group of pre-approved third party applications will be given permission to automatically siphon your data should you or one of your facebook friends visit it. This basically means you may click on a link and discover a website that already knows who you are (plus your date of birth, location, sexual preference and political allegiances, should you have put such things in your profile and left them accessible to others). To be fair to facebook, you don’t have to be involved with this, but the default settings will make it possible unless you specifically go and set your profile to opt out of the option.

I first joined facebook for work reason when I was working for Gen Con Australia in 2007. I avoided it for as long as possible, because even back then I was wary of the seductive qualities the social-networking gloss over what essentially seemed to be a massive data-sink collecting personal information about the whole damn world. I stuck around after I stopped working for Gen Con Oz because the social-networking gloss does have its good points, but I was always pretty wary about what I agreed to and what it I didn’t. Despite all this, the proposed changes don’t really bother me that much. The facebook privacy policy has always been a worrying document full of potential abuses, but one of the realities of living in a computer-mediated world is giving up the idea of a private self and hoping for the best. I may take steps to mitigate exactly how much I give away, albeit fairly lazy and probably ineffective ones given my relatively lax understanding of privacy law on an internation scale, but I’m also somewhat at ease with the basic principle of exposure that’s at work in the internet in general and social networking sites in particular.

Not happy about, but at ease. Presumably I’ll hit a point where I’m not, eventually. I suspect there will probably be even a bunch of stories written while I sort out my feelings on it, but I’ll deal with that when I come to it. Right now, the thing that really interests me about the change in policy is actually the way it tracks towards a shift towards opting out as the default setting for our interaction with the world. It’s the same language that’s at work in things like the Google Books Settlement where authors were forced to make choices about not letting someone use their copyrighted work rather than giving someone permission to do so (which is, basically, an inversion of the system we’ve been using since the Berne Convention, near as I can tell). I suspect it’s something that’s going to happen more and more often in the next couple of years, this aimless agreeing to things because we aren’t aware that we need to say otherwise, especially since there’s whole generations of people who are used to skimming the privacy policies and conditions of use that pop up (although, presumably, we’ll hit a point where you’re assumed to have agreed to those too).

The future appears to be in choosing not to do something, rather than choosing to do it.

Edit: Until then, may I suggest Dave Graney’s Rock and Roll is Where I Hide as a tonic to the inevitable exestential crisis that occurs when one starts thinking too hard about the perils of having no privacy.

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