Friday, October 8, 2010


The latest hotness on Facebook is Groups. What you use these for, I'm not sure. But in a stroke of genius, Facebook has decided that anyone—including people with public profiles—can add you to any group, public or private. To spell out how dumb this is, suppose that the Boy Who Likes Pink is on Facebook, but he carefully keeps his profile private. His friend, however, doesn't keep his profile private, and adds BWLP to the group "people at my high school who like pink". And then badness ensues.

Thankfully, some merry pranksters have started pointing out the folly of this arrangement, so my guess is that Facebook will fix it in relatively short order. But this is at least the third time they've made the same mistake. Between tagging in posts & photos, checking other people into places, and now groups, Facebook seems to be almost willfully ignorant of the potential for really terrible misuse of public associations.


Unknown said...

I don't get Facebook's cavalier attitude to privacy (the Google Buzz fiasco makes it seem that Google has many of the same issues). How hard would it have been, and how obvious a solution is it, to require membership in groups to be opt-in.

If your friend adds you to a group, all it would have taken to head this off would be to require that you confirm your membership in the group before that membership was announced to the world.

Frank Wilhoit said...

Look at it this way. What has been lost -- gradually, imperceptibly -- is the understanding of the boundary between public and private. It can't be gradually restored; its restoration (if any!) will have to come as an abrupt reset. The worse Facebook behaves, the sooner the tipping point will come; and the bigger the bale of straw that finally breaks the camel's back, the more effective and durable the ensuing reset will be.

...nah; the subext of Facebook is an assertion, as universally valid, of the rural notion of privacy, at the expense of the urban one, which is utterly different. Rural communites cannot survive unless everyone knows what everyone else is thinking and doing. (Haven't seen Bill this morning, better go see if he's pinned under his tractor.) Urban communities (because they pack people closer together than human psychology can endure) cannot survive unless no one knows what anyone else is thinking or doing. There is no way to reconcile these two attitudes or to bring them under a common umbrella of governance. Facebook is just one of many symptoms of this intractable problem.