Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. They can never escape the news for too long. And when they are in the news, it’s usually because of a privacy issue, or a new feature that has privacy issues. That all stems back to Mark Zuckerberg and his insatiable, confused perception of the concept that everyone on planet Earth wants to, needs to, and should share every aspect of their personal lives with each other.
Boy, he couldn’t be more wrong. But somehow, he has found a way to weasel his empire’s way into the lives of well over a billion people for his own financial gain. I can’t blame him for wanting to prosper, who wouldn’t want that? What I don’t like is the means by which he does so. His product has literally infected the Internet and there’s not much anyone can do to stop it. There’s a little, but it’s not much. Unless, of course, you don’t use Facebook.
This post has been brewing in my mind for a couple of weeks now and I finally decided to sit down and write it. What brought it on in the first place was Facebook’s latest iteration of its service which affected the mobile side of the company’s users. They’ve decided to force users to not only have the main Facebook app installed on their smartphones, but if the 945 million or so mobile Facebookers wanted to use the Messenger service, they now have to download and install a separate app because that functionality will soon, if it’s not already, be stripped out of the main app.
What’s the big deal some may ask? Well, this latest round of buzz about Facebook privacy flared up over the permissions required for use of the Messenger app on Android phones. However, all the hype was really caused by people misunderstanding the technology behind the permissions, which came from an article on the matter by a local radio station somewhere in the US.
People everywhere were freaking out because they thought Facebook was going to be able to use the camera and microphone on their smartphones, as well as make calls, all without their knowledge or consent. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While using Facebook and Facebook Messenger, users enjoy sending messages, taking and sending photos to one another or posting them to their timelines. There are some things that need to happen before these types of activities can take place.
Facebook cannot remotely activate a smartphone’s camera or mic, nor can it activate the dialler to initiate a call. But in order for a user to perform these actions within the Facebook app or the Messenger app, Facebook needs permission to access these hardware functions of the devices. Android, the widely used, Google created operating system found on handsets from a variety of companies, puts these parameters in the Application Manager, all in one spot, and I believe these permissions have to be addressed before using the apps. From there, users can grant Facebook permission to access those hardware components which enables them to share photos or videos, send voice memos, or even makes calls (which is technically Skype).
Apple handles these permissions differently for their iOS devices. Once the app is installed, the permissions don’t need to be addressed until the user wants to perform these certain activities. A pop up will appear, created by Apple, asking if the user will allow Facebook to access the camera, etc., and the user then grants the permission. There is also a place in the iPhone’s Privacy Settings where these things can be toggled on or off.
I stated in the title of this post that I still use Facebook. Well, that is true. But I don’t use it a whole lot. In fact, I once left Facebook for a while only to return about a year later. I found it was the only way to keep up with family and close friends. Sadly, no one uses regular email for that like they used to. I guess it’s because Facebook is just too handy. When I returned to the service, I realized how disconnected I was from everyone.
So, why do I complain about Facebook? Because of their lack of concern for our privacy, plain and simple. Oh, it goes beyond that though, but I consider the “Like” and “Share” buttons all over the Internet, the fact that they plant cookies in our computers, and the whole general technology behind Facebook a blatant lack of concern for users’ privacy. However if you want to use Facebook, you can’t escape it for the most part.
I must say though that my Facebook experience isn’t too bad. I just try to ignore what I hate about it and take some precautions to make it less painful. My biggest defence is that I never, ever, tap or click on a “Like” button, be it on Facebook or on a website elsewhere. I generally like what folks I’m close to post on the social network. I hope they know that. I can say one thing for sure, I don’t get targeted ads filling my stream from liking this or that on websites that I visit. And I would suspect that my Facebook friends don’t see ads about something that I said I liked. At least I hope not.
On my Facebook web experience, I don’t see any ads at all. I see a few Pages and Friend recommendations, and what’s Trending, but no ads. None. This is thanks to a little browser extension I use called Disconnect. It just blocks all that stuff so I don’t have to worry about it, and it works on all websites I visit. I highly recommend it.
Like anything Internet related, safety, security and protection are all best dealt with in your behaviour, which sometimes involves avoidance. So why don’t I avoid Facebook? Well, like I said, I use it to stay in the loop. I know there are many reasons to avoid Facebook and one day they might step over that line in my conscience that tells me “enough is enough” but until that happens, I’ll just keep telling myself that I’m just one measly little user who doesn’t tell Facebook everything about me and it’s okay to stay with it.