Earlier this week, everyone became terrified. Facebook is going to be sharing our user information, addresses and phone numbers with external Web sites?
No, Facebook hastened to reassure us. “People will always be in control of what Facebook information they share with apps and websites,” they wrote, in a statement, to Huffington Post.
Sounds soothing. But it’s no better. Facebook, why would you even consider allowing me to tell third-party Web sites my home address and phone number?
Don’t you know how susceptible to this I am?
After all, I gave you this information! And then I posted some of these things online for all my “friends” to see. Yes, I know that one of my friends is someone named Micheeeel Goo who, honestly, might not be a real person. And because you kept switching the privacy settings, an old gentleman in Albuquerque now has my home surrounded by cameras and is making scale models of all my furniture. But those might come in handy someday, right?
But now you’ve gone too far. Listen, Facebook. Here is why I share information with advertisers: Because if I don’t click “yes” to sharing, I won’t be allowed to take a quiz to see if I am more like Oscar Wilde or James Franco, and this is information I need to have for my peace of mind. It’s not because I actually want these people to have my information. In actual life, I would not do this. If someone said that he would tell me if my writing style sounded like James Thurber or not, as long as I told him where I lived and gave him my phone number, I would throw my drink in his face and flee.
There’s a weird double standard. Go out in Real Places and meet Real People, and if anyone asks, you’re Elly Higginbottom from Chicago. But online, well, I really want to know what color my personality is! Here’s my social!
Look, I want to play Oregon Trail. I want to join Farmville. This is why I say yes to giving you my information. I don’t go out of my way looking for ways to share my private information with advertisers. I don’t ask to make this tradeoff. But it seems worth it at the time. Not to indulge in hyperbole, but it’s literally identical to Sophie’s Choice. And I think you’re making it too easy for these people.
Sure, if I’m being honest, I have accumulated vast quantities of stuff from Facebook. Whenever I visit my friends’ pages, Facebook suggests that if I like Sarah, I will really enjoy the funky haberdashery of ModCloth.com. And it’s true -- I do! Their coats make me want to be a more interesting person. Facebook knows what I like, although recently it seems to think that I want Kim Kardashian to sell me shoes, whereas what I actually want is for Kim Kardashian to be sealed underground in a sound-proof box and removed from the radio.
Still, the choice is pretty severe. And perhaps Facebook is making it too easy for advertisers and developers: You either submit to sharing information, or you have to say no to the whole package. But can’t somebody draw the line somewhere, before I sign over my will to this app that will tell me if I’m gullible or not?
But that’s the problem. Contrary to popular belief, Facebook is not a public service. It is a business. And Facebook has never been about protecting us from ourselves. The old adage (old might not be quite the word) is that Facebook makes you loathe people you know while Twitter makes you like ones you’ve never met. Facebook is where you post the revelation that your dog just technicolor yawned all over a sofa and then ate it. “Guys, I’m getting the polyp removed from my nasal cavity today!” you post. “Winning!” Everyone silently hates you.
Facebook has never discouraged this. It’s not about filtering or consequences. It wants you to just put it all out there, to get the instant gratification of telling someone, somewhere what you’re doing. Occasionally, late at night, browsing through half a decade of profile pictures and updates, you’ll get a twist of something in your stomach that feels a bit like self-knowledge. But it’ll pass soon enough. There’s a quiz to take.