Facebook, Timeline and privacy

January 1, 2012 |

Facebook, its founder and its acolytes have had a tenuous understanding of privacy as a concept and no respect for it as a right.  That has put Facbook at odds with the US Federal Government.

In 12 Things You Should Know About Facebook Timeline there is a good description of what Timeline involves.

With Timeline Facebook has again adopted a technologically interesting but privacy invasive Timeline.  This was dealt with on last night’s PM.  The transcript is set out below:

MARK COLVIN: With billions of users all over the globe, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook now affect the lives of an awful lot of people. So when they make changes it can have big effects.

Facebook, a company which has been plagued with accusations that it has no respect for privacy, is in the firing line again for introducing a new feature called Timeline, and making people who don’t like it opt out rather than giving the choice to opt in.

And Twitter is embroiled in a row about censorship after it said that it would block some messages to conform with local laws.

Nate Cochrane is former editor of a number of IT magazines, now a freelance contributing to outlets, including the Sydney Morning Herald.

He joined me a short while ago.

(to Nate Cochrane) Let’s begin with Twitter which has gained itself a reputation over time as being very interested in freedom of speech and then it made this announcement this week and the Twitter-sphere exploded with people saying, oh this is a disaster. Was it?

NATE COCHRANE: I think people need to take a breath and a bit of a step back. Twitter is a fairly recent innovation. Prior to this we had Usenet newsgroups, most especially during the Gulf War 1.0 that we fought about 20-odd years ago.

But I actually view it as a positive because for the first time we’re going to see exactly what Twitter is censoring and why it’s censoring it. Previously, these tweets were just taken offline for the whole world. Now they’re just going to be taken offline for individual countries.

MARK COLVIN: What has been taken offline before? I’ve seen lists which are mostly about copyright infringement.

NATE COCHRANE: I think you’ve got to bundle this all up into one big issue of freedom of speech and whatever the vector is, whether it’s about copyright infringement or whether it’s political dissent, I think it all boils down to basically the same thing and that is that one group, through a medium such as Twitter, is stopping another group from expressing themselves.

And in this particular case I’d actually like to see Twitter go further. I mean at the moment all they’re saying is that when you go to see…

MARK COLVIN: You don’t mean to censor more?

NATE COCHRANE: No, no not to censor more but to be more transparent about what it is they’re censoring. So at the moment the theory is that under this system you will go to a tweet and it will tell you this has been censored for whatever reason.

What I would like to see is Twitter actually aggregate all those and produce a real time report saying, alright these are all the tweets that have been blocked, these are the people who have asked to block it, this is the rationale that we’ve been given to block it and, you know, these are the hash tags that are being blocked that are associated with those tweets.

MARK COLVIN: Okay but just describe what might happen. If, for instance, you’re a tweeter in Syria and you say something about the government, Twitter may have to block that but it may well still be visible here in Australia or in America. Is that right?

NATE COCHRANE: Indeed and in fact there was some analysis that I saw that came out of the Iran situation where people were tweeting about what was happening there that many of the connectors, many of the people who were being re-tweeted the most, actually weren’t even in Iran at the time.

So they were picking up tweets that were happening inside Iran and then refreshing that and reflecting that to all of their audience so none of that will be affected by this. Where we get into a bit of an issue is…

MARK COLVIN: But you’re saying that you could envisage a system where everyone would be able to see a box that says, “The Syrian government has censored 100,000 tweets this week.”

NATE COCHRANE: Exactly and that’s what I would like to see and I’d like to see groups such as Reporters San Frontiers, which recently just released its list of the country’s with list of free speech countries, actually integrate that into their methodology and if you get you know more than a certain number of these ban requests you get knocked down the list.

MARK COLVIN: Alright now what about Facebook? What is this new Timeline?

NATE COCHRANE: I confess I actually don’t use the Timeline. I’ve seen it used on other people’s Facebooks. I think what you’ve got to…

MARK COLVIN: Did you have to take a deliberate decision not to use it?

NATE COCHRANE: I had to make a deliberate decision not to use it. And some people use it and they like it. I think what you’ve got to understand is that…

MARK COLVIN: Should it be the default setting?

NATE COCHRANE: I definitely don’t think so and I think the problem with Facebook is it keeps changing its default settings. Every day I’m virtually going onto Facebook trying to work out what’s changed.

And it’s not just Facebook, it’s LinkedIn. I found out something about LinkedIn today that I didn’t know and I’ve been using LinkedIn since day zero and I found out that they can use my name and photo to advertise services to other people.

Now as a journalist I have a problem with that and I’ve been using it since the day dot and it was news to me.

MARK COLVIN: I looked at the video with which Facebook is advertising Timeline this afternoon and you know I’m an old geezer, the way it struck me; it looked like The Truman Show. It looked like your whole life is there just laid out for everybody to see.

Presumably there’s a generational thing; some people don’t mind that.

NATE COCHRANE: They may not mind it now but they might mind it in 20 years or so when they’re standing for political office or you know they want to become CEO of a company.

I think in a way we have a much more transparent society than we ever did have and that has benefits and disadvantages. I think it’s really up to each individual to educate themselves about how they’re publishing.

MARK COLVIN: But as it is, if you don’t change your status, if you don’t change your settings rather, all the sort of drunken parties you were at 10 years ago could be there for everyone to see?

NATE COCHRANE: I’ve been online since about 1987 in one form or another so people can Google me, “Nate Cochrane” or “Nathan Cochrane” and you will find out pretty much everything there is to know about me.

But I have a central policy; if I didn’t want my parents to know about it or my best friends to know about it, I simply don’t say it online.

MARK COLVIN: Nate Cochrane, former editor of a number of IT magazines, now a freelance contributing to outlets including the Sydney Morning Herald.

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