In my opinion privacy issues are a by-product of information conservation times reaching infinite.
For centuries and more humans were used to their own type of memory. When information reaches the brain, it is stored in short-term memory. When relevant and/or repeated, it is gradually consolidated into long-term memory (this is roughly the process).
The invention of oral transmission of knowledge, written transmission (incl. Gutenberg) and, to a certain extend, internet, all these successively increased the duration of retention of information shared with others. The switch from oral to written transmission of knowledge also sped up the dissemination of information as well as its fixed, un-(or less-) interpreted nature.
With the internet (“1.0” in order to put some buzzword) the duration of information is also extended but somehow limited ; it was merely a copy of printing (except speed of transmission). Take this blog, for instance: information stored here will stay as long as I maintain or keep the engine alive. The day I decide to delete it, information is gone. And the goal of internet was to be able to reach information where it is issued, even if there are troubles in communication pipes.
However on top of this internet came a serie of tools like search engines (“Google”) and centralized social networks (“Facebook”). Now this information is copied, duplicated, reproduced, either because of the digital nature of the medium that allows that with ease. But also because these services deliberately concentrate the information otherwise spread. Google concentrate (part of) the information in its own datacenters in order to extract other types of information and serves searches faster. Facebook (and other centralized social networks) asks users to voluntarily keep their (private) information in their own data repository. And apparently the NSA is also building its own database about us at its premises.
In my opinion, whenever we were sharing information before, privacy issues were already there (what do you share? to whom? in which context? …). But the duration of information is now becoming an issue.
The other evening, we started an interesting discussion with some colleagues about usage of Twitter and Facebook. Obviously most people in the room were (and are) using Facebook and knew about the feature (“status”) allowing you to share text messages with your friends (and the whole world). Less people were aware of Twitter, although is also offers the possibility to share text messages with your friends (and the whole world too). I was wondering why most (if not all) people in the room were registered on Facebook but almost none of them were registered (or even using) Twitter. Do not even mention Identi.ca, the open source alternative to Twitter.
Both Facebook and Twitter play in the “social networking websites” circle and both are proprietary. You must register with both to be allowed to participate although no registration is required to read Twitter messages (they are public by default). No such thing with Facebook: only registered users can read what other users posted. Another difference: Facebook allow you to share more than just text messages (photos, videos, play games, etc.) while Twitter relies on third-parties for that (although they are rolling out a photo sharing service). Is that difference in features that make most people prefer Facebook on Twitter? Is that just a snowball effect?
Twitip states that “Facebook appeals to people looking to reconnect with old friends and family members or find new friends online; the mashup of features like email, instant messaging, image and video sharing, etc. feels familiar, while Twitter is a bit harder to get your arms around at first. […] Twitter on the other hand, encourages you grab ideals in byte-size chunks and use your updates as jumping off points to other places or just let others know what you’re up to at any given moment.” Even with those differences, Facebook and Twitter had very similar demographics in 2010, according to Digital Surgeons.
Sharing information via social channels (Facebook, Twitter and alike) grew fast between 2009 (14%) and 2010 (24%) according to Social Twist. It even overtook instant messaging. But this shouldn’t hide the fact that most people still use e-mails to share links. Is it because most people using social media are still “old” (25-35 years old) and used to send and receive e-mails. Of course, Social Twist only records a special kind of measure (media sharing) and I wonder if the supposed use of social media in “Arab revolutions” will have an impact on the 2011 usage. It would be interesting to see the trend in the coming years.
Coming back to the initial question, I think most people in that other evening were mostly using Facebook (and not Twitter) mainly because of the snowball effect (most of the friends are also on Facebook). I mainly use Twitter to share information and Facebook to keep in touch with my friends’lives.
And you, do you use Facebook and Twitter in different manners?
P.S. If you want you can follow me on Twitter and, yes, you can find me on Facebook 😉
So Facebook, the current paramount social website, updated its website with the possibility to download all your data (among other updates). I don’t see why people need to fuss about this.
Although maybe useful, the important is not to be able to retrieve your data. After all, if your pictures are on Facebook, they were previously on your computer / camera / whatever. So you should already have them (and Facebook sends them to you in a zip file? what a feature!). Unless Facebook allows you to also download data about you but uploaded by others; this is a bit more interesting from a sociological / academic point of view (what has been posted about you). And then? A “big” step towards interoperability between social websites? Are you joking? For interoperability, you need 2 partners and, to my knowledge, no other websites (social or not) are currently offering the possibility to upload data from Facebook. Will it arrive? I’m sure of it. Is it secure? I doubt it: nothing is 100% secure in IT, Facebook is no exception. But this is still not important!
The important thing would have been to have total control on your data. The ability to post data. The ability to effectively remove data (Facebook policy explicitely states nothing is necessarily physically erased, not even your account if you decide to close it!). The ability to remove data about you posted by others. The ability to control data posted about your children. The ability to have real privacy.
So, why do I blog this? I don’t really get why people are so excited about this feature. Oxford building a new library [1, 2], why and how, this has nothing to do with the topic of this post but this is news!
Photo credit: Bodleian Library: Divinity School by Beth Hoffmann on Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)