I have written before about privacy and Facebook, expressing the view that people should treat whatever they put on Facebook in the same way as they treat something they put on a completely public website at this one. It may be wise to give people more granular control over who can see what, but it isn’t intelligent as a Facebook user to assume that their privacy controls will always be adequate and that your information will stay safe.
In the wake of the latest Facebook privacy debacle, I have realized that there is an element to the situation that I hadn’t considered before. Especially now that Facebook is working to put everybody’s ‘Interests’ into a standardized format, there is a real difference between how information on Facebook can be used, compared to the wider web.
A person with some time and interest could scan through my blog, figure out about how old I am, learn what sort of books I read, discover my political views, and so on. It would be rather tricky to write an automated computer program that would achieve the same result. Blogs are non-standardized, and comprised of human generated text. By contrast, information on Facebook is increasingly organized in a manner that is easily machine readable. If I want to reach 25-27 year olds who enjoy reading Carl Sagan books and live in Ottawa, it is easy to do via the information on Facebook, but hard to do with information from the general web. That seems to comprise a different sort of privacy violation and/or data mining.
In response, I have stripped my Facebook account of everything that might be of interest to advertisers, at least where it is easily machine-readable: hometown, current location, music and films appreciated, etc. A determined human user could still learn a lot about me from Facebook, for instance by looking at status updates and communication with others, but this will at least make it a bit trickier for machines.