Hark back to an earlier, perhaps more innocent time, when a Harvard student named Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergEx-Facebook data scientist to testify before British lawmakers A defense for Facebook and global free speech Senate Democrat calls on Facebook to preserve documents related to whistleblower testimony MORE was creating software.
His most successful project was FaceMash, which let students vote on which picture (of two students, most often, girls) was the most attractive. Not surprisingly, use of FaceMash was quickly restricted, as soon as Harvard’s administrators had their say.
Restrictors are attacking Zuckerberg again, although this time they’re motivated by public outcry and politicians’ desires to score those all-important political points. And this time, there is a small chance that his exceedingly successful company may crash.
Facebook made almost $40 billion dollars in digital advertising revenue in 2017, and it and Google account for almost three-fourths of the digital advertising spent in the U.S. Much of this comes from collecting data on our habits, opinions and behaviors, then selling that information to those who want to target advertising to us.
This has been going on for years, most people are aware of this practice and are willing to give up some privacy for some of the benefits of Facebook.
After all, this is the company that links people with their past (via contacts with old friends and acquaintances), present — how else to let others know exactly what you are doing at any given moment? — and future — as you learn more about those you know and connect to more friends of friends.
Despite much of the recent negative press about Facebook, let’s not forget that it has three strong features going for it.
First, it is the largest registry to ever exist anywhere, and it is worldwide. Nothing else has ever come close to the 2.1 billion people connected by Facebook. It is an easy way to find people who may have moved across the country or the ocean and learn about major events in their lives (pregnancy, births, deaths of relatives, important birthdays, retirements, etc.).
Second, this registry allows us to look up names and easily communicate with significant numbers of people who can help us learn about our personal history. As fewer and fewer of us choose to stay in the town we were born or grew up in, this network can provide us with answers that can be personally and societally important.
Third, it allows people to communicate almost instantly and without charge with anyone they are connected to. Think what freedom of communication this gives for the disabled and shut-ins, people who’ve just moved to a new place or people experiencing a hardship.
This again is a societal good, helping us feel, and, I would argue, actually be more connected. While much is made of the “fakeness” of some Facebook posts, grandparents across the country eagerly await photographs, videos, and posts about their grandchildren, and they know that Facebook’s media richness is second only to being there.
So how can we protect our privacy and our children’s privacy in the age of Facebook? There are basically three ways.
We can break up with Facebook completely, as the #deleteFacebook hashtag instructs. The problem with this is that we end up missing some of those connections, even if we don’t actually make use of them that often.
Cutting all ties with this huge grid of people might make us feel a little cut-off. And we will find that Facebook makes it tough to break all ties to it right away. However, as part of its new M.O., Facebook is making it easier to find instructions for deleting (as are countless articles, which reflect a growing desire for this option.)
We can also take a less drastic step and decide to take a break from Facebook by deactivating it. This being Easter Sunday, I’m reminded of a number of friends who “gave up Facebook” for Lent.
This step is less drastic than deleting your account, but people cannot communicate with you, and you cannot communicate with others until you reactivate. All that data Facebook has about you remains intact, only to continue expanding when you decide to reactivate.
Lastly, we can choose to “lock down” some of what we have been sharing. Facebook has recently made this easier to do, via a "Privacy Center" page, introduced on Wednesday.
These types of changes had been in the works for a while, as the threat of losing up to 4 percent of global sales was scheduled to become real on May 25, when tighter privacy rules of the European Union go into effect.
Take advantage of the many step-by-step instructions that appear when you type “How can I increase my privacy on Facebook?” into the greatest help desk of all time, Google. And remember, you can always change the restrictions for individual posts.
Before you post, think about who really wants or should see this, and change the settings from "Public" to "Friends," "Specific Friends," "Friends Except," etc.
This morning, when I went to check the categories for who could see a post, I noticed the default had been changed to “Specific Friends.” As he has done before, Mark Zuckerberg is changing his company to comply with restrictions.
Betsy Page Sigman is a distinguished teaching professor of operations and information management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.