Privacy Fence

3 05 2010

Many modern suburban communities require all property owners to have a 6 ft. privacy fence. The goal is to ensure some semblance of isolation away from the prying eyes of neighbors and the general public. To be honest, I despise those kinds of neighborhoods, because each property becomes a tunnel unto itself. But privacy prevails as the ideal point; people must want to be able to barbecue naked if they so desired.

Maybe we as a society have come to expect too much of this notion of privacy. But when you live and perform in a drama that is increasingly played out on a public stage, you invariably wind up tossing out a lot of that privacy. That handy backyard fence is not something you can take with you.

Like on social networking sites.

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook changed its privacy settings. Unless users go through a complicated maze of clicks to change the new defaults, everything in your profile can and will be used to market to you. Which is another way of saying that Facebook is going to sell “your information.”

You would think that Facebook had just pried open our front doors and stolen the artifacts of our very existence. There is public outrage. There are Facebook groups demanding a return to the old way. Why, there is even a group of senators who want the FTC to intervene to save our vital stats from the greedy money-grubbing hands of the marketers.

Excuse me while I yawn.

You see, all this brouhaha is just a lot of wasted hot air. Facebook is an opt-in site. And, make a note of this, it is FREE. What do users expect anyway? Facebook has to monetize its operations, or it will go under. The only way it can do so is to provide the means for marketers to reach us through advertising.

That, my friends, is facilitated by providing personal information that will allow marketers to target us ever more precisely. And it is precisely why users need to back down. Unless (and until) we are all willing to pay for the FB experience, this is what we can expect.

We do not have to use FB. We could elect to live our lives in the primordial technological soup of the mid-20th century. Snail mail. Phone calls. Or conversations over that backyard fence.

But to get up in arms about Facebook’s ambitious efforts to monetize itself is to miss the broader point. Facebook is all about making oneself transparent. Why else would anyone join a social network for the express purpose of hiding? The whole idea is to share information, and once and for all dispel that whole Six Degrees of Separation thing (with special thanks to my bro-in-law Brian for pointing that out yesterday). We are all now more closely connected than ever before, save possibly our nomadic days.

It’s time we let Facebook run its own show. We do not need the government to interfere. And if any among you wish to live behind the fence, so be it. Just don’t complain when you’ve paid nothing to be on this playground.

Dr “Don’t Fence Me In” Gerlich



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