Jed Cohen

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Privacy – Security versus Simplicity

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flickr. from rpongsaj.

I have two Twitter accounts.  I have two Twitter accounts because on Twitter there is no distinction between public and private.  So if I want to restrict something to just my friends, I can’t.  It’s all or nothing.  I know that chances are you don’t really truly care what I tweet about.  But considering how easy it is to dig up information about someone, I think it’s prudent that I reserve a portion of my online presence for just those who know me in real life. Of course the primary difference between my two accounts may just be whether or not I share what I ate for lunch, but I think that’s okay.

For Twitter, the privacy feature is simple.  Off or on?  Public or private?  Open or closed.  Facebook, on the other hand, isn’t so simple.  I have complete flexibility in terms of who can see what content and if they can comment on it.  I can lock down as much of my profile as I want, or I can let anyone with an internet connection take a look.  It’s up to me (and you).

Privacy on Facebook is complex.  Then again Facebook itself is complex (at least when compared to Twitter), so this makes sense.  As a result, Facebook has a tool that lets you look at your profile as if you were someone else:

Privacy has to be at the core of any internet service.  Users need to feel protected otherwise they probably aren’t going to want to participate.  They may not always recognize how protected they are (consider the modern day urban legend of embarrassing pictures on Facebook costing someone their job).  But that sense of security and trust remains important, even if it’s only in the minds of the users – although it should be forefront in the minds of the service providers as well.  We don’t even have to go very far back for examples.  The Google Buzz launch.  Facebook’s own recent changes to privacy settings.  Concerns about Foursquare leading to robbery.

But as social sharing services grow more and more complex, do privacy controls need to be scaled to match?  If Twitter decides to add more features, will they have move away from the private/public dichotomy and make things more complicated?  And what happens when another social platform rises up to join Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn in what will then be the “big four” of the social networking space (insert your location based service of preference here)?

Obviously I don’t know.  Maybe there’s a third model for privacy on social media, one we haven’t even considered yet.  I guess I’ll be dual-tweeting till that happens.  What about you? How do you deal with the different privacy settings across the social platforms you use?

Written by Jed

March 27th, 2010 at 7:47 am

Posted in facebook,social media,twitter

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Cross Platform Integration

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Cross platform integration can be a great thing.  Promoting and sharing content from one network to another can improve the quality and spread of information, and it can invite new perspectives on a discussion.  But there are definite downsides.  Let’s take this whole Twitter/Facebook and FriendFeed/Facebook integration mess that’s going on right now.  As far as I can figure out, what’s happening is that individual’s Twitter and FriendFeed posts are being mass pushed to Facebook, even if they didn’t turn on that feature.  It’s probably because of a change in the Facebook apps that integrate those services.  I feel comfortable saying this because it’s happening to people with both their Twitter and FriendFeed accounts connected to their Facebook.

Chances are, some behind the scenes change to the way the Facebook applications get data from Twitter and FriendFeed has led to this.  Or maybe it’s some changes they’ve made to the settings on status updates has overridden the application’s settings; if I remember correctly you can display the apps in your profile but not update your status (not sure because I don’t use these apps).  I don’t know for sure – I’m not a computer programmer, so this is all just possibilities and a little bit of common sense.  Either way, there are a few lessons we can learn from this I think.

  • If you’re a platform, please test changes before you go live.  This seems obvious, but “testing” when you have a userbase of 250 million like Facebook does means a lot of variables have to be considered.  I don’t want to be critical of Facebook –  let’s cut them some slack, and recognize that they can’t test every scenario, and things like this will happen (as much as they’d prefer they didn’t).
  • If you’re a developer, remember that you’re not working in a vacuum.  If you use the Twitter or Facebook APIs, you have to remember that you don’t own them.  Expect that changes will be made, and be willing to be flexible.  Plan accordingly, and build in contingency plans if you can.
  • If you’re a user, recognize that you use different platforms for different purposes.  I use Twitter for public stuff and Facebook for friends only stuff.  I hardly use FriendFeed (sorry FriendFeed, I just haven’t worked you into my routine).  It’s cool if you want to mix them; I don’t.  Either way, think about how you integrate all of your services across the web.  Keep in mind that those services are all created by different companies and have different goals.  Just because you want to send one unified message doesn’t mean that you should hook as many services into one another as possible.  Instead, keep in mind that each channel is different and deserves a slightly different approach.  This applies to companies too – would you use a radio ad on television?  Of course not!  So should you really be using a Facebook campaign on Twitter?  (Note: not a rule, just a suggestion).

Anyway, things like this are reminders that social media is still a new space.  Sure, Facebook has been around for years, and the White House uses Twitter as part of its communication strategy now.  But we still play and work in this fluid, dynamic environment that is subject to change – and we must be prepared to accept issues like this one, and be patient until they are resolved.

In the meantime, here’s how to block the Twitter and FriendFeed apps on Facebook – just click “Block Application” on the left. (This issue has been resolved).  And why don’t you leave a comment and let me know what you think while you’re at it?

EDIT (7.30, 8:30 AM EST):  I was reading the two articles at Mashable about this, and scrolling through the comments, I saw many negative responses to the whole situation.  Can someone please explain this to me?  Do we really expect social media companies to be perfect in everything they do?  It’s not like Facebook started putting everyone’s information on the Internet….they just posted a public feed somewhere it wasn’t meant to go (on another public website).  I don’t really get it.

Written by Jed

July 29th, 2009 at 11:24 pm

Posted in facebook,twitter

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