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Do the Recent Facebook Changes Suggest a More Sinister Agenda?

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FACEBOOK

Facebook started out simply as a book of faces: an online extension of your community. It was a good way to see friends' photos and keep in touch with people that you otherwise rarely would, as well as being mildly voyeuristic in a way that pandered to both our vanity and curiosity. It very quickly became an almost necessary digital accessory, and as functions like events and the like button were added it evolved into a seemingly indispensable aid to modern living.

With the recent changes (including the ones yet to debut in the UK) it's now grown into a complicated beast that constantly changes its interface and its rules. It's also become increasingly commercialised to the point where the importance of the average user seems to matter little.

Firstly, let's not forget Facebook's roots. Zuckerberg was only a young college student but prior to Facebook he created a website called Facemash that randomly presented pictures of female students at Harvard and asked the user to judge who was better looking, eventually coming up with a first to last ranking of his fellow (female) students. The personal embarrassment that some of these girls must have felt makes being picked last in the sports team pale into significance. This small insight shows an abuse of trust at a level that most of us couldn't even contemplate let alone accomplish.

Facebook also have a pretty poor history when it comes to privacy. It feels like every time there's an update you have to go and change a privacy setting for your profile to remain as you want it. There's also been many security breaches. Recently, I have become aware of cases where users (including myself four times) have found themselves inexplicably "liking" a page that they never have heard of or visited. If someone can make you like a page what else can they do, or see?

Facebook seem not merely content on making large amounts of profit by advertising to you. Zuckerberg is trying to sell Facebook as the centre of your digital world and wants you to eventually be reliant on the platform for your entire digital experience. If Facebook is successful in what they have already started to put into place they might well soon be the largest company in the world, and all this from a company without a product in the sense that we are used to. It's currently much more powerful rivals, Google and Apple actually produce things rather than just a digital representation of a (increasingly confused and disjointed) community.

The downfall for all of us is that the interests of the basic user are being pushed aside as Facebook becomes commercialised and we become commoditised. Facebook may have started as a simple and fun idea by a young genius, but they must have very quickly realised that they had to work out some way of making money from this huge thing that was seemingly free. So why stop at just making money from advertising? Why not have your shot at greatness and try to take over the whole internet?

The basic fact is that Facebook cannot evolve as Zuckerberg wishes when there is an emphasis on the privacy of the individual, and that is why I believe that the company has always wanted to stay slightly ahead of the average user and their privacy concerns. They have a vested interest in over-sharing as it makes their product much more appealing to advertisers and other interested parties within the digital community.

When we over-share, we often unwittingly embarrass ourselves. When we have little control of what we share, or what Zuckerberg calls "frictionless" sharing we instantly become objectified - it's the basic theory of quantum mechanics that a subject will act differently when it is observed. Therefore our digital lives have little integrity when we don't have the control of what we share, in effect, we cannot act naturally when the eyes of the world are upon us - whether they're noticing or not. Depending on your viewpoint, your digital integrity might not be worth much to you anyway, but personally I prefer not to live my life in a goldfish bowl.

Now that Facebook has amassed a vast global network of semi-dependent users - was it always a way to get your information and your loyalty in a way that was designed to eventually exploit you? Most people that I regularly speak to, as well as what I've been reading in the blogoshere and the social media press are increasingly unsure of exactly what Facebook is doing and where they are going. Many people, including myself, are strongly contemplating leaving - but few are completely sure.

Everything in this world comes at a price. Facebook seemed to be simply a wonderfully free service that at worst showed us a few advertisements. Now it appears that the cost might be much higher. How much is your own privacy worth to you?

Around the Web

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Facebook changes touch privacy nerve – USATODAY.com

Users not happy with new Facebook changes - CNN