It’s been a bummer of a week. My site was hacked and Google slapped it with a malware warning. I contacted my host. They were cool about it and helped me resolve the issue. But my site was hacked and I felt a little violated. So I took the week off and went on a long hike through the mountains to ponder the meaning of life and meditate on top of a cold, barren hill with nothing but the wind against my bare chest and the evening sun against my back.
I did none of that of course. I was just too lazy to update this blog. Which means that I’ve been woefully out of touch with tech news – a cardinal sin if there ever was one for a tech blogger.
From what I’ve been able to gather by trudging through the slush of unread tweets in my Tweetdeck feed, two stories have been hogging all the press attention lately: employers asking job candidates to reveal their Facebook passwords, and two guys from the Geeklist being very, very, smooth with the ladies.
Both dick moves, by the way.
Facebook Ought to be Terrified (or The Impending End of Privacy as We Know it)
Facebook’s reaction to the Employergate was quick and fierce: it threatened no less than legal action against employers who sought user passwords.
“We’ll take action to protect the privacy and security of our users, whether by engaging policymakers or, where appropriate, by initiating legal action,” Facebook’s chief privacy officer has announced.
This is an apt reaction from a company that knows it’ll lose all its users if their private data isn’t private anymore. Letting your significant other access your Facebook page is a major issue for most, letting your prospective boss know your intimate Facebook secrets is nothing short of a strip search and an anal probe – in public. If employers were actually encouraged to extract private information from job seekers, it would jeopardize the entire model that Facebook, indeed, the social web, is based on: that your data is your data (I know that is a very loaded statement).
The fundamental question that irks me though is this: why do employers even need job seekers’ Facebook data? Sure, the pictures from that one time you crashed that college party and smoked a lot of weed and got so high and jogged naked down Student Union quadrilateral might reveal something about you, but I’m not certain how that is applicable to whatever job you are applying for.
What we are seeing here is an intrusion of the public into private spaces.
But that begs the question: what exactly is the delineation between public and private spaces?
This delineation – strict and absolute earlier – has been muddled and washed out over the past decade, largely because of social media.
Think about your Facebook profile for a second. It is a public profile. Many elements of your profile may be viewable to anyone. Depending on your privacy settings, I may be able to see your wall posts, your pictures, and your likes. It is perfectly possible for me to gather a vast amount of information about you without ever meeting you simply through your public profile. For instance, if I see that you like Ed Hardy T-shirts, tanning salons, gelled hair and posted about a David Guetta concert a while back, I will know to avoid you like a fucking STD.
And yet, parts of your Facebook profile are profoundly intimate – late night chat sessions with a significant other, private photos meant to be shared with just a handful of friends, etc.
The problem arises when the private bleeds into the public. It is difficult to demarcate the line where public ends and private begins viz-a-viz Facebook. Do you simply tag everything that has not been shared with everyone as ‘private’? In that case, Reddit and sites of its ilk are inundated with ‘private’ posts from (intentionally/otherwise) hilarious friends where the poster’s full name is carefully hidden. The private, thus, essentially becomes a ground for public entertainment.
Moving forward, we’ll find it increasingly difficult to identify the demarcating line between private and public spaces, and Facebook is just one example of this. I may sound like an alarmist, but we may very well arrive at a future within the next decade where privacy is not only extremely limited, but willfully given up.
Before we trumpet the call of social media, we all need to take a step back and lay down some firm rules on the division between public and private, else it isn’t impossible to imagine that dystopian future that kept Orwell awake at night.
That doesn’t change the fact that asking job seekers for their Facebook passwords is still a massive dick move.