Ever since Edward Snowden started releasing his NSA revelations, public awareness about security on the internet has grown. This has cast a very unflattering light on Facebook, whose utter contempt for its users’ privacy is well known, and as its use of confusing and ever changing privacy settings which mean that even when users make strong efforts to lock their accounts down, they regularly find themselves oversharing.
Supposedly in order to address these concerns, Facebook last week introduced a ‘Privacy Check-up’ tool (accessible under ‘Privacy Shortcuts’) designed to make it easy for users to ensure they only share what they want to.
While this sounds nice – ‘oh look, Facebook is doing something to improve users privacy’, its motives may in fact be quite the opposite.
Facebook makes money thanks to its ability to deliver highly targeted advertising. The more highly targeted the advertising, the more money Facebook makes, and the way to target that advertising is to know as much as it can about its users. Privacy is the enemy of Facebook’s business model, of its very raison d’être!
So why does Facebook appear to be improving users privacy? The obvious answer would be to keep its users happy, and prevent drifting off to use other services. However, with Facebook user numbers growing all the time, this idea does not hold much water.
Rather, we should consider Facebook’s own research, which shows that people share less when they have they are uncertain, or have concerns, about who they may be sharing with,
‘Users “imagine” an audience upon sharing content, and that this imagined audience modulates user-level self-censorship: If some of the “imagined” audience is not “appropriate,” users are likely to censor themselves.’
It goes on to find that,
‘Though users generally tend to underestimate their actual audience, those aware of potential privacy breaches may utilize SNS tools such as Facebook privacy settings to avoid content withdrawal or to allow for less vigilance, thus reducing self censorship.’
In other words, users share more (reduce self-censorship) when they think they have a tight control over their privacy settings, which means they are providing more personal information for Facebook to plunder for advertising purposes!
Rather than increasing users privacy, by improving its privacy settings Facebook is hoping that users will in fact be more open about their private lives’. Sure, fewer will be able to see their posts, but Facebook always can…