Public outcries about Facebook's privacy policies hit new heights over the past couple of weeks, as the world's predominant social network introduced controversial new features like Live Ticker and users filed lawsuits over pre-existing privacy concerns. Still though, some users are downplaying privacy matters in online forums. Despite the angry threats of other account holders around quitting Facebook, will rival Google Plus really stand all that much to gain?
Facebook launched Live Ticker about a week ago, and it's already provoking lots of ire. As its name implies, Live Ticker gives you a realtime ticker of your friends' activities on the Facebook site. Coming soon is Timeline, a feature capable of mapping everything a user has ever done on Facebook.
Meanwhile, in separate actions in California and Kansas over the past two weeks, disgruntled users took Facebook to court over Google's practice of placing cookies on members' browsers that can continue to track online activities even when a user is logged out of Facebook.
Inflamed by all the clamor, US Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) last week joined ten consumer and privacy groups in calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate features such as Timeline and several previously introduced "Open Graph" apps designed to broadcast a user's Web surfing patterns and interests to friends and friends of friends.
While relatively few users are filing lawsuits against Facebook, more are writing in online forums that they've either cancelled their Facebook accounts or are giving serious thought to making that move.
'I've always thought FB was kind of creepy'
"No one should be able to stash something on my machine that sends info about me without me knowing it. It's called hacking," wrote story101 in the SodaHead forum.
"I have always thought FB was kind of creepy. I finally de-activated my account - hopefully that is enough," replied Rex, in the same forum.
"If I have to constantly delete my browsing history to rid these cookies, it isn't worth the effort of keeping [an] FB profile," according to TedStevens.
Contended another user: "I just checked 'How to permanently delete your profile' on Facebook. You have to submit a request to do that. [I'm] beginning to be sorry I ever joined that thing."
Said Mlisen 14 on the Facepunch forum: "I wasn't concerned about the privacy issues of Facebook until my private chat history began to inform what ads I'd see on the site. A friend and I would be discussing music in chat and then advertisements for the new albums of the bands we discussed would appear. My friend was discussing places she intends to go to in Europe and she received ads about youth hostels in Italy and France. If nothing else, that crosses the line of understandable invasion of privacy."
Facebook users are also voicing alarm over the new Live Ticker feature. Facebook does provde privacy settings around some of its features. Evidently, though, there is no way as yet for users to specify which kinds of news will show up in Live Ticker. So users are receiving scrolling lists of notifications about stuff such as who is online and which songs their friends are playing on Radio.
"What happened to privacy? You do see EVERYTHING now," said LizBot, a member of the Civic forum, in reaction to Facebook's addition of Live Ticker.
Another member of that forum pointed to a list of "three ways to kill the ticker" which has been put together by the tech blog Sum Tips.
Reaction to Timeline has been more muted, possibly in part because Facebook will allow users to edit their own Timelines, Users will be able to add, delete, feature, or change the privacy settings on any piece of content. Although Google announced Timeline and Live Ticker at the same time, Timeline has been available so far only to developers.
'I don't put my entire life on Facebook'
On the other hand, other Facebook users are taking a less worried attitude about privacy issues, for any of several reasons. Some explain that they've long avoided revealing much personal information in social networks, anyway.
"I don't put my entire life on [Facebook] like most people. I just like posting a status once and a while and looking through statuses and pictures," said Rachel on SodaHead.
"I go on Facebook to see what people are up to, which is why I keep as much information off Facebook as I can," wrote carcargo on the Facepunch forum.
'If you don't want to share information....'
Others insist that it's kind of pointless any more to try to protect one's personal privacy online, in any case. "Your information will be logged no matter where you go," observed ItsGary, on Facepunch.
"If you don't want to share your information, why bother using a social network?" asked Mr. Epicness, also on Facepunch.
"Social networking sites pay for hosting, pay employees, etc. with ad revenue. So when you 'Like' something on FB they give you ads based on your interests. Social networking sites aren't [charities]. They want money. Like Mr. Epic said, Have that big a problem with it? Don't use it," another user agreed.
Yet, even if members do wind up leaving Facebook in droves, will Google Plus be a big beneficiary? Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
People who aren't fretting all that much about privacy issues aren't going to leave Facebook, anyway -- for that reason, at least. Some of those who do treasure their privacy seem willing to make certain tradeoffs in order to stay on Facebook.
"I've been contemplating deleting my Facebook account, but I actually use it for work quite a bit. [That's] the thing. I really don't want this sort of thing public unless I make it public," said rundevil on the Facepunch forum.
"It's not much of a choice any more. Facebook is so prolific that you [are] being [put at] a disadvantage for not using it," commented Used Car Salesman, also on Facepunch.
'I trust Google a lot more'
Users seem divided over whether Google Plus might present a better alternative. "I might close my FB account soon. I trust Google a lot more," said Yuki, a Facepunch member.
"If it gets much worse I will have to move to Google+," concurred TedStevens, over at the SodaHead forum.
Google, though, has also come under fire repeatedly over privacy issues. In an FCC investigation last year, for example, the federal agency looked into Google's admitted, but apparently inadvertent, collection of some user passwords -- and even entire e-mails -- as part of a Google Street View project around mapping Wi-Fi networks.
Nemberships in Google Plus recently soared to 50 milllion, as opposed to Facebook's total of 800 million. However, it's tough to know how much of Google's gain is related to Facebook defection, and how much simply to Google's decision to drop the invitation-ony approach at Google Plus and open up the beta test to everyone on September 20.
Moreover, a new report by Chitika Insights shows that Google Plus has lost about 60 percent of its active users over the past two weeks, an indication that many new users are falling back from participating in Google Plus after satisfying their initial curiosity about the site.
User unhappiness with Facebook is also beginning to give rise to upstart social networks such as Diaspora and OneSocialNetwork, which focus in various ways on giving users control over their own data. Thus far, though, these efforts are only in the early stages.
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