I was going to write this post a few weeks back, but time just got away from me. Facebook came out with a service (News Feeds) that essentially scraped data from all your relationships in order to give you a personalized daily briefing of your social network’s activities. This is a very cool solution to the issue of information overload, especially when you start managing so many friendships. But, the user community revolted and drove Facebook back to the drawing board.
The primary complaint revolved around the invasion of privacy (even though the data assembled was about people with which you already had relationships). I’m sure this was pretty surprising to Facebook and a clear demonstration of the need to consult with your community before doing such large scale updates. But on the central theme of privacy and people’s desire to maintain it, some interesting developments are occurring.
Whether people like it or not, personal privacy is evaporating. Between the digital trails we leave online to our increasingly videoed, photographed, and otherwise documented physical movements, the world is becoming a very public place for anyone that knows how to ask the right question. Facebook was just showing people the power of the technological tools that any good coder already has at his disposal (and frankly, it was just a hint).
This type of assemblage of data, across all your activities is already occurring at an astounding rate. As this technology gets into the hands of more people, the ability for the average individual to really maintain any level of privacy that has been traditionally expected will go the way of the teletype. Facebook’s failure to successfully launch this service notwithstanding, similar services are going to start proliferating in the very near future. And they will frankly be much more powerful and pervasive in their scraping abilities.
Accepting this as a probable reality will start helping us deal with the outcomes of this trend and start demanding equal access to all information, especially from places like the US Government (thanks, Obama). We are already living in a very public world and it’s about to become virtually transparent whether we bitch about it or not. And to be honest, I'm not sure that that's a bad thing...