Friday, February 8, 2013

Facebook Heart Palpitations

I've been back on Facebook for over a day now, and I already have many things to report. First of all is that it is easy to find all your friends. Nearly everyone you have ever known is there and has their own Facebook account. And thanks to Facebook's statistical analysis, if you can find one friend on Facebook, you can find them all.
Facebook ended its sign up process with a request for my email address and password. While they assured me that they would never keep my information, I didn't want to give it to them. Not only is my email account one of my most secure services, there are people whose contact information I have that I don't want to give to Facebook. Not only do I not want to find them, I don't want them to find me. But Facebook is very persistent. Every time I log into Facebook -- either on the Internet or through my phone -- they ask me again for access to my email account to find more connections for me. And the more friends I have, the more people they tell me have used this service.
I personally don't care if every human being in the United States has used this service with zero ill effect; I don't want to use it, and I don't want to be pestered every time I log into my account. What I really want is a way to tell them to quit bothering me with their idea of how I should use the service.
It's understandable why they want to get your list of contacts. Everything on Facebook is about friends. And heaven help you if you have more than one type of friend. There is a way to segregate them, but it is difficult and counter intuitive. Everyone is in your friends list, but you add some of them into other lists as well. Some of these lists limit what the person can see, while other lists let you see more of what the person posts. It can make for a confusing mess since you are never completely sure who you are posting information to when you post something.
Then there is the entire "like button" issue. The like button is one of the things that swept the Internet several years ago. There are like buttons on virtually every web page, and of course you can also like anything that appears on Facebook as well.
One of the first things that appeared on my Facebook wall was a picture of a naked man looking thoughtful and sitting outside. It was a gorgeous picture, and I couldn't help but hit the like button below it. Then I wondered whether my 82 year old aunt was just informed that I liked that picture. Did it appear on her Facebook wall? I tried to find out, but Facebook doesn't really tell you anything of any value when you are trying to understand their service. I ended up using Google to look up answers for Facebook. And sure enough, everything you like is public by default. It took me hours to find and change the setting, and I still don't know whether it appeared on my aunts Facebook page. I guess the only way I will know for sure is if she either unfriends me or comments that I have good taste in photography.
So that's my experience so far with Facebook. It is a privacy nightmare with no way of telling who has access to anything you do on the service. If you limit your postings to be completely safe, then the service is worthless. Sure people will be able to read them, but no one will want to. But the more open you try to be with your friends by treating them like, well, friends; the more danger you are in of giving your family heart palpitations.
There is no doubt in my mind that Google+ is superior to Facebook in every way. Their privacy settings are easy to use and leave virtually no room for error. Their service is quick and responsive. They make it easy to find what you want to know about your friends, and keep the information you don't want your family to know private. The only problem with Google+ is that it is like the dance that no one showed up to. All your friends are over at Facebook. Lord help us all.

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