Privacy and the Treacherous Middle Ground

I've always thought that in the venture capital business you either want to be very early or very late but not in the middle. I've also thought you either want to be a boutique with a few investors or an institution with many, but never in the middle with the bureaucracy of an institution but without the scale.

And I think privacy is like that. You either want to be totally public or totally private, but never sort of private and sort of public. It's just too complicated to be semi-private. That middle ground is treacherous.

If you look at the Foursquare checkin screen:

Foursquare checkin screen 

You see that Foursquare is going to send the checkin to your "friends". That is the private channel where you've hand selected who is going to see that checkin. But you also have the option to send the checkin to Twitter and Facebook. Those are the public channels where your checkin is going to be seen by everyone.

The problem Facebook is having right now is that they are sort of private and sort of public. I think of them as a public channel. I don't post anything to Facebook that I don't want everyone to see. But that is not how many of their users see them. I believe Facebook is going to have to choose to be either totally public or totally private or they are going to gradually cede their social graph to services that stake out the totally public or totally private territory.

Privacy is pretty black and white. It either is or it isn't. And trying to have it both ways won't work.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Comments (Archived):

  1. Oo Nwoye - @OoTheNigerian

    Nothing on social networks is private in my opinion. What you share on Facebook or Twitter with your ‘friends’ only is one click away from the world. Email is mildly better because you carefully select who to add in that ‘to’ bar. It is not fool proof even at that. The quote that sums up privacy in the internet age isThree can keep a secret….when two are dead.

    1. fredwilson

      that is true in the extreme but when my daughters used to block me on facebook, there was no way i was going to see what they posted. when i checkin on foursquare, if we aren’t friends, you won’t know i am there unless i share that in the public channels

      1. Oo Nwoye - @OoTheNigerian

        I agree. my mum cannot see my updates and any photo I am tagged in :D. But to be on the safest side, I NEVER allow any photo that will break my mums heart to be taken in the first place.I block her from things I rather not have her see. If it is something I definitely do not want ther to see, I will not put it up in the first place.When you broadcast your location to your friends, I am assuming you rather not have the whole world see it. I am certain if you definitely do not want strangers to know your location you will not be broadcasting it at all.My problem is that people put up things they definitely do not want public online and make it ‘private’. That is quite a huge leap of faith in my opinion.

        1. Aviah Laor

          the onion covered it well…

          1. Fernando Gutierrez

            That video is great! Can’t stop laughing!

          2. fredwilson

            You gotta love The Onion

      2. Joe Siewert

        I have noticed a slight hole in foursquare’s check-in process regarding privacy, but maybe this has been fixed. Say that me and a friend check-in somewhere together. I only broadcast the check-in to my friends, but my friend goes a step further and sends his check-in to Twitter. When foursquare generates his tweet it not only says where he is, but also says he is there with me (using my twitter username). So suddenly my check-in is public.

        1. Mark Essel

          Whoa, pretty solid example of social connections and privacy getting victimized accidentally by a friend. It’s like a friend posting an embarrassing picture sent by email publicly. Users just have to understand what they reveal. It’s safer to assume any activity we make through social networks is public and decide accordingly

        2. fredwilson

          That’s a good point. They should fix that if they haven’t

  2. Dan Ramsden

    Facebook has overextended itself and gotten too big too fast, where it is now in a position of seeing Google as its competitor, on one hand, and having to steer an ocean liner on the other. This is not a good place to be if it happens prematurely, as I believe it has, and some of the challenge has probably also been forced on the company by a far-out valuation that now has to grow. I wonder if this is going to become a new case study as the Internet transitions from a start-up (world is our oyster) to mature segment… To your point about either fish or fowl, the sector itself may now be in that precarious middle, of which Facebook is symbolic.

  3. Aviah Laor

    spot on. but the convulted FB privacy settings is legacy. They turned the ship to “public”.It’s a a long shot which comes down to this:1. “we think that whatever made FB hyper-growth can be made public, and this is the future.” 2. or “the private thing was good for growth so far, now we change to another growth engine, the hell with privacy”.Option 1 is a fundamental misunderstanding of the human nature (there is always a line between personal, family, close friends, friends, and the work life), and option 2 is a really huge bet. we will see.

  4. Aviah Laor

    BTW, maybe it’s a good time to suggest a standard “privacy terms” which will be publicly accepted, trusted by users without 2nd degree in law school, and easily used by startups and new websites.

    1. Tereza

      You’re right. Universal nomenclature would make a big difference.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      It’d need to be government backed with clear guidelines and penalty ranges and processes for court-style hearings for violations to make it have any strength and for people to trust it.Otherwise, for example, if a company like Facebook was apart of this and they changed their mind for bigger profits I’m sure they would have just trampled over it.

      1. Mark Essel

        I hinted at regulation a couple of weeks back in a post, then there followed some political attention. Hot button communication becomes a “public utility” like water, electricity… Internet?On crappy cut and paste phone, but will link it later if you’re curious. Facebook is a little shop of horrors (that was before I removed their Like button and deleted my account).

      2. Fernando Gutierrez

        I don’t know well how it works, but I’d go for something more like creative commons. In the end I guess there is some kind of courts/government protection of copyright, but they make a lot by their own. Anyway, governments can’t do so much on the internet because there are not clear borders or locations.In the privacy field it could be someone doing a standard sheet of privacy terms and letting you use it and endorsing you as long as you repect it. Maybe losing the “privacy compliant” badge could be something really bad for a company…

      3. ShanaC

        The idea is totally unnatural….

  5. Harry DeMott

    I think you have it here. People who are thoughtful and probably of a certain age understand the difference between private and public but FB and others are counting to some degree on the fact that most people either haven’t thought of the ramifications of public or simply don’t care. I’ve seen friends use foursquare in the very public way and you can literally track them across a city over the course of a day.I have to believe there is push back sooner or later and what was once cool to check out will become insane for most people.Just as your daughters would block you on FB, the heavy users of social services will likely revert to a friends only model.Is Foursquare as interesting then? Is FB?

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t agree harry.blogging is public by default. so is twitter. there are plenty of models out there without a friends only approach.but i think you either have to use the blogging model or the original FB model. anything in the middle is dangerous

      1. maxniederhofer

        Not sure if “dangerous” is right. “Difficult to implement”, “confusing for the end user” and “more likely to lead to unexpected results.”

      2. ShanaC

        I always though it would be interesting to go back to private blogging….

  6. sigmaalgebra

    Fred, I can’t resist: It looks like you’re saying, “Can’t be a little bit private”!

    1. fredwilson

      yes, exactly

      1. aswath

        In offline social circles we do maintain private in the middle. To wit, before a surprise party a group of friends nominally maintain the privacy with the guest of honor. The online socnets need to reflect such social protocols/

  7. Bruce Barber

    Fred,It’s interesting that you use Foursquare as an example here.I use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as completely public channels. (I’m used to this, because I’ve been a public figure – a radio host – for most of my adult life.) Foursquare, on the other hand, is the one social network I’ve decided to sandbox as a place where I want to know everyone on my friends list.That said, I agree completely with your assertion that “the middle ground” is treacherous. This makes me wonder, though – is this a problem that needs to be be addressed by Facebook… or its users?

  8. Mark Essel

    Wait so businesses won’t get knowledge of our checkins? (that’s public not private)Doesn’t that defeat the monetization model of FourSquare?Recent negative feedback and posts by Louis Gray and Mark Nielsen made some ideas more concrete in my mind this morning about business building, It’s not X, but how you Y. Business without integrity, is a financial and social distraction.

    1. Harry DeMott

      That last sentence reminds me of the posts that Umair Haque puts up on his blog problem is that not all businesses have integrity – whether meaning to or not – and so how do you go about handing off all sorts of data to them without knowing whether they will treat it properly – or think they have an implicit invitation to spam you? Do you really want to go through FourSquare business by business allowing or denying the owner the data?It’s a tough one.

      1. Mark Essel

        Thanks Harry, Umair’s blog is the goods.

    2. Joe Siewert

      As far as I know businesses can see your check-ins if they are using the analytic tool foursquare built. I have no idea how many businesses are actually using it though. (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.c

    3. fredwilson

      Yes the business will get notified of your checkin.

  9. Tereza

    I’m not sure I agree with you completely on the ‘privacy is black and white’ statement. I think that for a given situation — a certain subject and a certain person (or segment) — it is. Either they have access to the info, or they don’t.The problem to me is that privacy, in practice, is so messy and shifts all the time. Someone whom I tell a lot of private things, I may not want to tell other things. It’s so situationally specific. And that to me is the middle ground you’re talking about.Also it shifts over time. I’m more sensitive to it now that I have kids and also more exposure to medical issues which can really affect how someone views your productivity.

    1. maxniederhofer

      I think I agree with that. “Contextual publics”: IRL, I feel fine dancing in a club, but I don’t feel fine dancing on the street. The web is kind of like that.I think Fred’s point is more “on the web, privacy is more black and white.” The constraint here is UI/UX and how much you can ask of a user. Is it practical to ask of a user to go through their ~200 friends and see who is able to access that particular piece of content you just posted on service X? Or should we just be able to trust that only contacts on that service will see it OR that it is completely public? Your point re drifting privacy preferences over time add an additional layer of complexity. Who hasn’t ever gone back after a while and deleted a tweet because they thought “well, that’s not really up to my usual standard and I regret it?”There is a question here whether web services will one day make contextual publics easy or whether that functionality will stay difficult to implement and confusing for the end user. I am hoping we’ll get to a point where we can enable contextual privacy but it’s a long, long way off.

      1. Tereza

        That’s right. So for example, I don’t discuss politics with my mother-in-law, which I’ve learned over time is a non-productive and possibly upsetting conversation. But I share lots of pictures of her grandkids.Also, I find privacy a weird topic because when you have to defend it, people suspect what nefarious reasons you wanted the privacy. Then by explaining it you’ve breached the privacy, and either let out an embarrassing (but innocent) or banal situation. It’s just uncomfortable all the way around.Social relationships are complicated in real life, and they are certain at least that complicated online. The grids and rules don’t take into account that ebb and flow.

      2. Tereza

        Oh and I failed to mention indeed I was pretty pissed off when I realized that beyond FB’s high-level instructions around the new settings, despite my having followed them, all the individual albums of my kids were open to the public.That was so not cool.Clearly none of these people have children.

        1. Donna Brewington White

          It took me a long time to develop the comfort level to show photos of my kids on FB but then my first post on Tumblr was a slideshow of my 13 y.o. getting her ears pierced. Admittedly my concern over privacy has changed over the years and this is largely due the dulling of this sensitivity as a result of social media…however there is still a line and I like to have some sense of control over this line — ESPECIALLY where my children are concerned. This would be the reason I’d choose to deactivate FB above any other…and interestingly, sharing my children with my family across the country has lately been my primary motivation for being on FB. Ah, the irony.

          1. ShanaC

            Think of your 13 year old when she is 22….

          2. Donna Brewington White

            Even better, I have a 15 y.o. who thinks he’s a 25 y.o. However, he proves daily that he is 15. I warned him about privacy settings and he said he didn’t have anything private to share. So, I just showed him on my computer all that I can see on his FB even though he has not friended me. He immediately changed his settings to “friends only”. Ruins my stalking capability…but also ruins that of strangers. I won’t allow him to block me because I want to be able to see at all times what a stranger might be able see. He is not 25.

      3. fredwilson

        Yes max. That’s exactly my point. Thanks for reinforcing it

  10. kidmercury

    brutal facebook diss boss. i agree.this is another reason why federated is becoming my new favorite buzz word. for true privacy/user empowerment, one must have the right to leave the cloud. we do not exist because of the cloud; rather, the cloud exists because of us. i see independence from the cloud as a key part of web 2012. moreover, i see independence from the cloud as a step towards the evolution of a world with many niche clouds (i.e. niche platforms). i would expect these niche platforms to have tightly integrated and controlled systems, crapple style, but that they will be built upon the same federated network.

    1. Mark Essel

      It’s also pre-emotive Foursquare strategic defense KM. They have to be ultra clear about who has access to check in info. The magnifying lens on social sharing is going to get stronger.The cloud represents something different than centralized communication services. Nit pick on semantics. I’m pro remote storage/hosting buy also pro user control of that data/server structure

    2. David Semeria

      There is an ongoing USV meme here: users can’t handle complex configurations. Based on my interpretation of Fred and Albert’s recent posts on the subject, USV believes that instead of wading through specific privacy settings (à la chmod) people will just view any given SN as basically either open or closed.It’s a big simplification – but the web has taught us that simple works.

      1. ShanaC

        Not true- look at Scoble’s interpretation of Foursquare- he blew the door wide open to who sees him. The question is he checking in everywhere with all of those people, or just selected places (that’s behavior privacy…)What we need is chmod modeled on how people behave. We don’t trust a machine to auto-handle behavior at all- what we want is the machine to adapt to the way we behave (which has ranges of uniqueness for everyone..)

      2. raycote

        Surely with good UI we can make thing both simple and still manage more than just binary choices.

        1. GraemeHein

          A proper design affords simple and complex behaviors. This is quite basic UI design and I’m very surprised that FB keeps screwing up like this.You can create more value and keep people happy by defaulting to private and allowing people to be as open as they want. Make the case for visibility and let them know how they benefit from opening up.I see these decisions stemming from people pushing for revenue and making truly horrible decisions on who to partner with. Short termism at its finest that is killing an amazing brand. FB could be easily sending me great, amazingly relevant ads that would pay very well. Instead I get lowest of the low value dating ads and USV funded scammy spam.Twitter is open and public. Everyone there knows that they are writing for the front page of the WSJ. Facebook should be a place where you can share what you want with who you want (for friends, for family, for professional contacts..). They know essentially everything about you, should provide high value targeted ads, and have many other business opportunities. They are making the worst possible decisions with the relationships they’ve built and the data that they have accumulated.

          1. raycote

            Totally agree!

    3. raycote

      Just like real world organic communities all feature distributed redundancy of function as a key organizational dynamic, a theme that runs through all living adaptive systems.PS Love your phrase”we do not exist because of the cloud; rather, the cloud exists because of us”Works well repacking cloud with corporation

      1. kidmercury

        thanks for that link — i definitely agree with that

  11. Tariq

    My guess is that the backlack against Facebook is indication that there is demand for services that handle/fill in, other parts of your social graph. Should be good for any entrepreneurs looking at the space.I don’t see Facebook having much of an incentive with stepping back towards being less public. Their bid to become more public might be part of their attempts and monetizing more.I wonder what the break down is between public/private users and the activity level on the site. e.g.: who is the more valuable user or the one they can’t afford to lose.

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      I agree. I think there can be a nice opportunity to build something really private. Probably it can’t be as big as FB because your private self is more contained, but it can a be a quite big company anyway.A few days ago I read something on Techcrunch that this was the chance for MySpace to strike back. I’m not so sure about because they have always been very public, but maybe another small competitor already in the business could do it very fast.

  12. Bijan Salehizadeh

    Very good post, Fred.I’m on a college campus this weekend for a graduation, and it’s pretty remarkable to hear the pervasive backlash against Facebook re: privacy from the students here. This is (or was at some point) Facebook’s bread and butter user base.The whole Diaspora thing makes alot of sense to these 18-22 year olds. Facebook better figure this out soon…

    1. fredwilson

      Microsoft never really figured out open source and the web – the two things that stalled their juggernaut

      1. Mark Essel

        They’re starting to get open source, and working to get more web centric (office online, Bing, IE overhaul). But like Google and social they are uphill battles.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      It is very interesting to me to read this comment because I’ve wondered whether there is a generational issue involved — especially given that FB’s initial “bread and butter” was the college group and its CEO is not much beyond this. People old enough to be the parents of the group you refer to have lived with respect of “privacy” as not only a cultural norm but something held to be a “right.” I’ve noticed that my younger FB “friends” tend to be much more open about what they share online. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they value privacy any less but perhaps have a different comcept of what is private.

      1. ShanaC

        Yes- i share a lot with my friends. But it is really weird when it gets to the matter of I change, they change, and just because I’m sharing with you now, doesn’t me I am sharing with you latter, or with that guy down the street…

    3. ShanaC

      I think I am going to jump the day that gets started….I’m sick of some of the facebook wierdness.

  13. piontekdd

    One of the main reasons I switched from MySpace to Facebook was due to the privacy of facebook (this was back in 2006 or 2007 I think). Until recently, Facebook was where I kept private things (personal, family, friend related things) and Twitter and other social media was for more public stuff. Facebook has definitely blurred that line with all their changes over the past 6-9 mos and is feeling a bit of a backlash. I’m not sure where facebook stops. but they really need think long and hard about the changes they are making. (Granted, you can turn off and opt-out of a lot of their ‘new functionality’).

    1. MacSmiley

      The problem with Facebook is that it DOESN’T allow you to opt out. Read the part of the privacy policy about “General Information”.And, btw, Facebook BEACON was never Opt-Out. You could opt out of the *display* of purchases being posted on your News Feed, but you could not opt-out of the program entirely. The purchase information was still being sent from partner vendors to Facebook until late 2009… even the purchase info of NON-MEMBERS!This whole Instant Personalization thing is merely Son of Beacon.

    2. Jose Paul Martin

      I think twitter got it right… it was made public from the start (although DMs are good as it goes for privacy). You’re right… #fb has blurred the line… and they’re paying for it… check the recent trending in google… “how to delete facebook account” – some are doing it out of privacy concern… some I believe are just plain anti-facebook (big players). Whatever the case… fb needs to get its priorities straight… what is it going to be? Private or Public… if both, make it very very clear….(Just curious, why twitter reactions are recorded in disqus and not fb commments?)

  14. msuster

    The problem with Facebook is that they changed their mind. The lured us into believing our stuff would be private so we chose to make it a place to communicate with our families and friends. We accepted pictures of our kids being live because they were private. Then they changed the rules of the game midway. And they made it mostly “opt out” rather than 100% opt in. Shame on them for muddling such an important decision. It’s no longer about a simple business decision. It’s now about ethics and trust.

    1. Jeff Pomeroy

      Mark – you absolutely nailed it. My wife and I have talked about the photos of our child being on Facebook many times. We always felt okay about it because it was ‘private’ and shared amongst a trusted group of friends.

      1. fredwilson

        Photos of your kids that you don’t want public or kids’ photos they don’t want us parents to see are the two classic examples for this issue

        1. Alan Warms

          So funny you said that Fred – I just yesterday deleted all pictures from Facebook and made my wife do the same – I get really creeped out at anybody being able to look at my kids. And as hyperbolic as Jason C. usually is in his emails, I thought his last blast was REALLY spot on – why would you trust these guys? I think they’ve opened up huge opportunity for for other networks like twitter. I am essentially using FB now as a giant address book — I also pretty much removed all my likes/profiles (or should I say FB did).But they have me pretty spooked.

    2. muratcannoyan

      Absolutely, and since Facebook is the leader in the social networking space I can’t help but feel these decisions will effect perception of other social networking sites.

      1. William Carleton

        I hope that’s not the case. I hope the public perception ties FB’s missteps to the culture specific to that organization. I’m not saying it was wrong, morally, to switch privacy positions, or to be unsure, or even to go back and forth; but it’s the dissembling, saying one thing when they meant another, changing terms with sleight of hand and to elide what the agenda really is . . . that’s a pattern that other social networks take pains NOT to emulate.

      2. ShanaC

        No, it’s like you know your stuff is in public- the question is how public (or rather, which public)See I remember when I couldn’t see stuff from other networks (even if it included a friend)- unless that person directly friended me. even then, content was really limited. Now you can jump around and be stalky…Oddly- that behavior and that web-i-ness reflects real lives. we just aren’t so aware of which publics we belong to, and that is where things get weird.

      3. Druce

        If FB can sell all your info to the highest bidder, track you all over the web, change the rules every two weeks, and get away with it, then how dumb are Google, Yahoo and Microsoft if they don’t do the same?If it makes more money and users are implicitly OK with it, they have a fiduciary duty to do the same.Unfortunately, a race to the bottom will only end with European style privacy legislation.

        1. Druce

          BTW this is a good illustration of what FB has done – you don’t even need to be logged into FB and can see a lot of updates that people intend to be and believe to be private.…(substitute the query with hate%20boss or anything)

          1. fredwilson

            Wow. I want to reblog that

          2. Druce

            A picture is worth 1000 words LOL.Even after reading everything in the tech news (and deleting my FB account), it wasn’t clear how easy it is for every hacker in Romania to know your details, if you haven’t hidden them.To me, Facebook is a highly evolved form of email for friends and family, not a public blog or twitter feed. If I get a Gmail account, I don’t expect Google to sell my contacts to 3rd party marketers, even though I understand that I’m making a deal, where I am giving them a lot of information about me and they are going to serve up targeted ads.

          3. Ethan Bauley

            Facebook’s risk profile is off the charts, not just because they’re trying to “have it both ways” as Fred said, but because they are intentionally obfuscating the changes. That’s crazy.They are playing with fire as your example shows clearly.Great illustration. Here’s another recent example of Facebook pimping out its users and obfuscating: any time you “like” something on the open web, you are granting the page owner permission to spam up your news feed:…Pretty scandalous

          4. Volker Detering

            Wow, just wow.

        2. fredwilson

          Politicians are starting to look closely at this

          1. Fernando Gutierrez

            I just hope you (Americans) are able to solve this kind of things before your politicians do anything. European privacy laws are a huge burden on companies and they are also ineffective.They are not the same in every country and I’ve only gone deep enough in a couple of them (Spain and Italy), but my conclusion is that they:-Prevent small companies of doing things. I haven’t launched a couple interesting projects with my company for fear of making a mistake in this field and losing everything (fines are huge).-Create new costs to all companies. It’s a complex regulation and fines are huge, so you need to hire lawyers and experts on the field to be able to sleep in the night. Just what every small company needs, more legal costs…-Do nothing to fight the real privacy violators. Sometimes they can’t track them because they are not in the country. Or they are too big to care (fines are huge for a small company, but peanuts for a telco).

          2. COMRADITY

            I do think regulation should encourage companies to “do the right thing”. Specifically, if you do not intend to use personally identifiable data for anything other than you specifically say, then why do you need lots of legal copy to raise doubts about your intentions?

          3. COMRADITY

            Great to see some thoughtful discussion here.Importantly, Rep. Rick Boucher has drafted a Privacy protection Bill… which IMO sanctions Facebook’s policies. Fred, I assume this is what you are referring to? I hope he is aware of the sentiments here. We are doing a survey, planning to share the results with him.… Katherine Warman Kern@comradity

    3. RichardF

      Bang on Mark. I don’t think they will ever get that trust back either.

      1. Mark Essel

        Trust once burnt is nigh impossible to re-earn

      2. jefftala

        I’m not convinced anyone outside of community’s like this one even realize anything is different on Facebook.

        1. RichardF

          I think that’s a reasonable point, I also wonder if it’s realise or care. However there are subsections of mainstream users that are starting to self-moderate/change their usage and if the negative press continues I do think it will filter through to the rest.

        2. markslater

          absolutely correct. People dont.

        3. Dr. Gunn

          Again, whether or not most people notice or care has no bearing on whether what you did was right. If you skimmed money off the top of some deal and nobody noticed, it would still be wrong.That said, Fred’s got a heck of a point – if you want exposure, Facebook’s the wrong place to be. They may be better off staying closed and working with what they’ve got, instead of trying to compete with the more open service providers.

    4. Joe Siewert

      Right on. Users don’t want to continually have to reevaluate privacy settings once they are using the service. It is frustrating and confusing. Facebook is such a large app that even when you think things are private, something could be showing up in another place on the site and you’d never know.

      1. Matt A. Myers

        For example, anyone can view your photos if someone has the direct image URL. Maybe there’s a setting to turn that off, but I doubt most people would even understand it if it told them what it did.Here’s me and my dog..… 🙂

        1. Mark Essel

          Great example Matt. It’s why people flipped when Google “screwed the pooch” with revealing email contacts publicly.Robert Scoble wrote up a good take on privacy today. I spun a comment on how it’s like a virtual currency that we opt into sharing for free beer. God help the service that auto opts you in without the free swag. Fbook Fubar’d this one.

    5. Eric Leebow

      This is a perfect answer, Mark! If you were bowling, this would be a strike.

    6. Donna Brewington White

      Once again, Mark, you get to the crux of the matter. I’ve known that something was wrong, very wrong, but you’ve just clarified why I’ve had that gnawing feeling in my gut…this is something beyond just poor business thinking or misgauging their audience…that “feeling” was the sense that something has been violated…you’ve nailed it — ethics, trust…ah and not to mention privacy. You’d think the latter would be a no-brainer in the things you don’t tamper with.

    7. ShanaC

      oh and the earlier adopters are pissed…..but we don’t know where to go yet…

      1. Dr. Gunn

        Especially since Facebook had to go and buy Friendfeed.

  15. Jeff Jarvis

    I agree that Facebook’s problem is that it is confusing sharing with publishing as it confuses *the* public (all of us) with the creation of *a* public (that is, our closed circle). In that confusion lies fear and from that fear comes the kerfuffle. My post on it here:

    1. Mark Essel

      Excellent write up Jeff, enjoyed it a week back

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Liked that post. A lot. Thanks.

    3. fredwilson

      I read that post Jeff. Yours is a more nuanced take. I think black and white will serve us well on this issue

    4. ShanaC

      I liked that post (even though I never read habermas, now I want to read habermas)What about the idea of the problem of overlapping publics- and how we flatten ourselves because we aren’t used to the jarring nature of those overlaps being so clearly in our face. On the web, it’s very obvious that our friends from college and our colleagues from work and that person we met at a recent party all start yabbering with us on a social network. In life- that’s less likely to happen. it’s almost like social networks have caused social dynamics to both flatten out as well as change (what is now my emotional relationship to a variety of people, which is how I base what I reveal to them…??)

  16. Jeff Pomeroy

    Fred – great post. In the past, I have drawn a line in the sand with regards to my use of social media. If I wanted something public, I used Twitter, Blogger, Posterous, etc. in order to do it. Facebook, for me, has always been about my ‘protected, yet public’ comments – amongst 100 or so people I know from various points in my life.In recent weeks, I’ve been watching as more and more people are uncovering just how exposed much of this information on Facebook really is. So, it appears that my desire to have ‘protected, yet public’ comments within Facebook is not the reality – at least not without tinkering with the myriad of privacy controls. As a result, I’ve pretty much stepped away from Facebook.The reality right now to me is this – if you post it, expect it to be public. So, as in real life, be careful what you say if you don’t want someone else to know about it.

  17. Eric Leebow

    Interesting thoughts, Fred. I don’t think it’s all or nothing when it comes to privacy, yet certain sites can market themselves that way when a privacy issue comes up. They can say, “We are more private or have certain privacy features that another site does not have.” I believe the hybrid of private and public would work if you go about it correctly. Also, you have to realize you absolutely cannot please everyone, and this holds true with any web service or application. There are always going to be people who question something, no matter how great it is.Twitter is not totally public, neither is LinkedIn. You see users who protect their updates on Twitter and LinkedIn, and these users cannot have public updates sometimes because of their profession (or at least they believe it might have an impact on their job.) So, there needs to be a happy medium or an option for a user to opt out, yet people need to find that happy medium. LinkedIn is not totally private or public, and you don’t see a backlash on them or protest on them, or at least I’m not aware of it. I think it’s because LinkedIn is more open with its users, which is not always easy for a large company to do, especially if there is a large audience they are catering to.For instance, LinkedIn introduced a “follow” feature, where you can follow companies. Now, if automatically every company I had a group that was automatically followed, without me following them, then LinkedIn might have a backlash with its users. Even with lesser known sites, for instance I’ve joined a small networking site of entrepreneurs, and I’m also on an online dating website. Both of these sites give options to have your profile appear in Web search results. For instance, in the settings on the dating site it gives you an option for your profile only to be seen by members who have logged in. They also use some of its members in advertisements or show “featured members” and you can opt out of this as well. Not everyone wants to be a “featured member” for a site. This is a privacy feature. Twitter, on the other hand has a bunch of people hiding their updates. So, this is why I’m concluding a hybrid model works, and as you displayed with FourSquare. I once updated and told Twitter that I’m eating pizza, and I lost a few followers, and I did some research on this, and found a follower who unfollowed me, and my conclusion was that they did not eat pizza. You see, you can’t please everyone, not even your followers!

    1. ShanaC

      Is the goal even to please everyone? Also something by nature that needs to be clearly defined. Both FourSquare and Facebook at their heart are servicing ads of various sorts. (facebook does a few other things….)Serving both masters is difficult….

    2. Eric Leebow

      That’s not the goal, that’s the ideal. If a company (any company, not just Internet services) can make all of its users happy, then that would be amazing. The best thing for any service that is social media related, is to make them do what they do in real life better. So, if you use FourSquare to check into places, how does this make the experience a better one? Is it better that people in your real life know that you’re checking in, or is it better for your own social proof to say, “yes, I’ve been here, or I’ve done this.” Think of all of these services as the modern day diary. People years ago used to keep diaries, and some do via blogs, yet tools like this allow people to do things quicker. If you can say I’ve been here or there, and share the experience with a greater number of people, how does this change your life or make the world a better?

  18. pruett

    facebook’s “model” is very simple…it’s similar to that of a teenage girl in acting upon a “what’s hot right now” mentality.the problem, as Fred points out, is that it becomes extremely confusing when businesses like facebook constantly act upon different and emerging trends. they completely deviate from their core models, and it becomes a moving target of a business. it’s this greedy and ever-changing company focus that leaves people feeling deceived.iterating and innovating is one thing, but stealing and copying others to get a piece of the “what’s hot right now” pie isn’t exactly the majority of users care? probably not…and facebook knows this. an evil empire in the making? not unlikely.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Its beginnings were already pretty evil to begin with, no?

      1. pruett

        got a point

      2. fredwilson

        I don’t know because I wasn’t there

  19. Charles

    Another topic is *why* they changed their mind, how it was designed and implemented, and how they communicated it. Some thoughts on it here:

  20. aslevin

    Privacy isn’t binary. Why can’t I set up groups so I share political discussion with one group and musical discussion with another? In a tech startup, a product launch discussion may be visible to the whole company, but m&a discussions visible only to a few. It is a common need to be able to control who you share with. It’s not an unsolvable design problem. But Facebook’s design for the control of sharing is very hard to use, and their changing policies come across as deceptive.

    1. fredwilson

      Too complicated. I wrote a post about that a while back

      1. Michael Weiksner

        I think that NYT article positioning Foursquare as a privacy option for sharing location data is spot on. I think that aslevin may be correct, but it will be through a proliferation of special purpose communication networks like Foursquare, Plancast, etc., and not some “group” feature on a general social network like Facebook. Decentralization is key: each of these specialized networks can store data about the links between nodes and the chatter between the nodes and you never have to trust a centralized player about linking data improperly across networks.

  21. logicalextremes

    While the middle may be difficult, we shouldn’t require people to change to suit limited tools (or limited imagination of the tool makers). Privacy is absolutely not binary in the real world and until the tools properly support real people’s real needs and wants, there will be privacy and publicity failures. Facebook intentionally makes the middle more difficult than it needs to be, and the recent rapid changes that have removed choices have only exacerbated that difficulty.

    1. Mark Essel

      That intentional difficulty is why I deactivated and deleted. Manipulating users to do something deceptively is a sure sign of a lack of integrity at the top.I’m not over concerned about privacy, but I prefer not to reinforce questionable business practices.Appreciate all your privacy shares on Buzz LE.

    2. raycote

      That was an extremely logical, succinct statement of the challenge at hand.Solving that challenge is a prerequisite to empowering the web as a true technical extension of our real life visceral communities. The discarnate cyber community environment which we are attempting to build is no less than a technical analogue to our real life organic communities and necessitates similarly complex organic tool solutions. If we cannot find effective algorithmic network techniques to mimic real life viscerally organic adaptive behaviors we will surely fail at technically extending those culture assets. As an example, biological cellular exchange systems maintain selective privacy barriers in the face of massive public facing intercellular signaling or we would all be dead.The network effect, social structures, we are now building require that we meet these types of mandatory, complex adaptive system, design complexity constraints. As that crazy guy in the old Apple ad said “keep it as simple as possible but no simpler”.No amount of naive, youthful, cavalier dismal or denial of these basic organic complexity design constraints will shelter us from the social network, culture crashes, that will inevitable ensue if we fail to heed the heads up, the cheat sheet, that natural living systems have provide to us.Some statistical failures in selective privacy barrier execution is tolerable in any living adaptive system but to abandon such mechanisms altogether would be to sign our own, network economy, death warrant.PS – love your handle – logicalextremesis there a back story on choosing that name?

    3. fredwilson

      I’m not sure we can model real world complexities in a mass market web service. I think binary is best for that

      1. logicalextremes

        You may well be right for services with limited scope, like a tweet or a checkin. But for aggregation or broader lifestreaming it’s not enough. Facebook’s current privacy difficulties arise from the clash of historical expectations with new strategic directions (including turning formerly private data into public data) with convoluted UI added to the mix, rather than from simply providing more than two choices.To fully address the needs of the mass market though, services with broader functions need additional privacy choices like friend lists, allowing pseudonyms and multiple accounts, and the ability to show or hide profile data (including social graph).I agree with your assessment of the difficulty of modeling real world complexities. We do have to rely on people to handle much of that (setting expectations and honoring expectations), but we absolutely don’t want the tools to be working against us like the current Facebook.

      2. COMRADITY

        My dream real world model would be a safe deposit box where I store my contacts, content, and only I have a key to unlock it. That virtual key can be used anywhere I am to release only what I want to share in that context. And it keeps a record of where I’ve released info so I can back and edit or delete it.

  22. ShellyH

    I’ve migrated all my content over to – I only share with those I choose and I can hide/show whatever I want. It’s built on strong privacy controls (with no silly applications that steal your info!)

  23. RichardF

    People do want intimate relationships online that reflect their off line experiences. Levels of communication are required for that to happen. Facebook proved that’s what people wanted and then decided that wasn’t how to maximise their revenues. At that point, as Mark Suster has already pointed out they broke the trust of their users.If I were a VC I’d be looking to invest right now in the next Facebook because I think Facebook is going to go into demise sooner than most people thought..My thoughts after Jason Calcanis

    1. Mark Essel

      Agreed a rapid opportunity space will open. Hope to see several interoperable networks arise in the next social web.It’s happening now with the fabric of open standards (, activity streams, rsscloud/pubsubhubbub, salmon, ostatus 2, & openid)

    2. Aviah Laor

      but what prevents this new social network to make the same shift in a few years? there is a big trust issue here.

      1. RichardF

        Your right Aviah there is a huge trust issue but that is something that can be used to the advantage of a new player. There are plenty of businesses where trust is implicit in the customer relationship.

  24. Abbas Ali

    “good keep it up”:”http://arena-of-professiona…”

  25. phineasb

    Fred-For me the black and white issue is not public vs. private at the network level but transparency and control of data at the individual user level. The opt-in vs. out decision Mark mentions is a great example of the need to educate the existing user base in a much more pro-active way. Privacy on the web is messy right now and a solution is needed, but I don’t think it requires a public vs. private designation every service. My hope is the private sector will take the opportunity to innovate around this consumer need rather then the government stepping in and regulating the web and have described why over on my blog today.( )

  26. Christopher Prince Boucher

    They are doing what the people want. From your point of view as a Venture Capitalist, you see things different. As a collective whole of the internet, Facebook is doing what their analytics are telling them. Statistics that only Facebook can view.

  27. Chris Hunt

    This is what happens when you try to twist a product to fit a business model.Awesome Facebook is massive and they may rule the world but they’re not moving google for the moment……widgets Oh cool, wait a second they don’t make any money.C

  28. People Search

    Interesting observations on the treacherous middle ground of privacy.

  29. Morgan Warstler

    Dead on.The obvious play for FB seems to be two versions that are clear as day and unhackable.

  30. Ed Freyfogle

    isn’t the bigger problem here that you’re wasting your time at Cafe Gitane, when you could be grabbing a vodka gimlet at the Jane, only steps away?

  31. David Binetti

    People are very happy to give away their privacy if they feel they are fairly compensated for it. Most loyalty programs are based on this dynamic. In this instance FB seems to be capturing all of the value without offering any new compensation. So it’s a double-whammy — being duped and being stolen from, each of which is going to produce a visceral response.

  32. alan p

    The issue with Facebook is they started off as one thing and are morphing into the other, and it is not being done for the benefit of the user. Also, from the beginning their DNA does not suggest a culture of respect for others.

  33. ShanaC

    I have a huge amount of friends affected by this. I really want to make it work according to the WWWWWH states (Who what when where why and how) I realize that social networks and the internet are on some level a space (or many spaces) on top of a space (or many spaces). With real behaviors and actions in it. Both places interact with each other, and I want to take real life and web life back and forth. So my actions towards privacy in life need to be reflected in web life. Inherently that the problem. it you saw me stabbing at meat in a kitchen, you would think I am fine. If you saw this on the street- umm yeah. Privacy often works with context of what we tell people in the context, their relationship to us, their place at the moment, and the degree of closeness (know people who would be in a kitchen and a bar- that person is close to me- just a bar, probably not as) What we need is privacy to locate us in those sort of actions and spheres.Which is hard, because I am not sure where I exist yet here…certainly not in this box to be sure..

    1. RichardF

      absolutely agree Shana

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Very well put, Shana.

  34. Aaron Klein

    The real problem is that Facebook made this way too complicated. Friends, networks, friends of friends, public, and which things you can and can’t control, and it all changes constantly.There should be a toggle switch on everything that gets posted. “Public” or “Private”. Then you get to define what private means in ONE place.Foursquare does both public and private in one app, but they do it well because it’s simple to understand and isn’t the least bit tricky.

  35. Tony Berkman

    Anytime you have 2 choices you have a dilemma. You only start to have a choice when you have 3 or more options. Privacy isn’t like pregnancy. It’s not black and white. The issue with privacy is always resolved if you give the user’s the choice to decide.You’re right thatFB is seen by most users as being a private network that “only my friends or family will see what I post.” FB perpetrates this “user belief” in their approach to “friends.”On FB a user is prompted to agree to a friendship request. Thus it’s implicit that only people who you agree to have as your friends will see what you post. It’s their strength and their archilles heel; since they can’t claim the social graph as their domain without users knowing that their content is open.FB needs to give their user’s clear choice. They are attempting to open up the graph by prompting users to request more friends and using prompts like “share with friends or friends of friends.” My brain short circuits when I see share with friends of friends and I’m certain other people’s do too. It’s a misplaced prompt.FB will implode if they go totally public with user’s information. This diaspora of users would be massive, since FB will then have breached this implicit contract of privacy.To get to totally public network, like Twitter, would require FB to prompt users to opt to open their data to anyone on FB. Most users won’t opt in as they want and expect a closed FB.However there is no reason for them to have to be totally closed. They need to start educating users about the benefits of opening up certain things. It needs to be totally user driven choice. Like FourSquare, FB could have 2 channels.They could start with s simple option beneath the post box that lets users add the networks and apps that they want to share with each time they post. The more users are exposed to this, the more they will share, and the result will be that more of FB opens up.FB has choices though the right thing to do is let user’s decide.

  36. Martin Lawrence

    To paraphrase Joseph Heller “he zigged when he should have zagged”. When Zuckerberg could have honored privacy, he disregarded his contract with Facebook’s users. He thought Twitter’s (non) privacy model was an option for Facebook. And from a monetization standpoint, he would have been right.Of course, Facebook wont go away. It won’t fade into oblivion either. But I do beleive it’s growth will be stunted. And, what’s a lot more more important: it’s image has shifted from being “my trusted private addressbook” to be a rather chatty / spammy noise-channel.

  37. Mike Geer (MG)

    Hi FredI agree that online privacy is easier handled with services using either a completely private model or completely public model. However, I must point out, that Foursquare is trying to have it both ways, just like Facebook. The only difference (for now) is that, as was pointed out earlier, they have not tried to push all those “Tell my friends” checkins to public checkins with an opt-out switch. That is where Facebook crossed the current societal “fine line”.So the question is, when/if Foursquare has their own real social graph (say 100 million users, not just a million) will everyone’s moral clarity still be intact? It’s funny how many millions of dollars help us to rationalize the legality and morality of going with an opt-out system instead of an opt-in system for such privacy changes. As you can see, Facebook has gotten away with it and have made themselves hundreds of millions of dollars because they took that risk ;)Good luck!

  38. Donna Brewington White

    Fred, once again a post that is most appreciated. I also continue to appreciate the platform you create for a wide range of commenters to share views and for relationships to be formed in the process. Maybe AVC is a social network.As I read the comments, it seems that what is considered to be private may have nuances, but when it comes to the desire for control over what is shared — that is pretty straightforward for most of us. Up to a point the tail has wagged the dog and this has been okay. Social media has created vast new possibilities – maybe even a paradigm shift – for how we connect and relate and has required some adjustments on our part. However in the end, a social network is a tail and not a dog. The success of social media has been in its ability to serve our values in terms of connecting and relating. The existence of those values is what has allowed social media to flourish. Not the other way around. However, I will say that platforms like Facebook have helped to create a more acute need to connect and relate on a wider scale with a high degree of efficiency.Not only are there values that allow social media to flourish, there are other values that continue to threaten its existence and I think our value of privacy is one of these. We will perhaps adjust our definition of and desire for privacy as part of the paradigm shift, but I doubt that the vast majority of us are going to give up this need altogether.I do believe that we will reach a stage in the evolution of social networks where they will more accurately reflect the nuances of our relating patterns and the distinctions between relationships, but we are not there yet. Inadvertently, Facebook may be speeding this along as other platforms rise to address the need that Facebook has helped to create but in its shortsightedness is beginning to falter in meeting.Perhaps, a new USV investment will be the answer?

  39. Richard Edwards

    As ever Mark is on the money here. BUT, it is interesting to note that all the comments are from Digital Adopters/Immigrants. It would be interesting to know what Digital Natives make of this. What do your kids think? I wonder if we oldies are just too obsessed with ‘the rules’ and the need for order whereas younger generations stress less about this and just accept that it’s all out there ‘so just deal…’.’Dude, where’s my privacy!?’ – maybe in years to come, the notion of privacy will be seen as a quaint concept whose time came to pass…

  40. vanelsas

    My post title was ‘With privacy there is no middle ground’. I think the biggest problem Facebook now faces is their own strategy. You can’t defend your users privacy if there isn’t a privacy switch for the user that protects him or her from Facebook itself.I feel they are facing a strategic dilemma. Either they need to be on the user side and implement privacy in such a way that the user has full control (including a switch to prevent Facebook itself to use their data), or they should be extremely clear to the user what their business model is. I have no issue whatsoever with a social network that helps users connect to advertisers. I do have an issue with the attitude of ‘we care about the privacy of our users’ while they do not provide full control over your privacy. It is this mismatch between their PR and their action that hurts them now. Its a trap they dug themselves and the only way to get out is to decide which one of the above scenarios they want to be.

  41. rhitu

    Totally agree. They have to make up their minds on how public or private they’re systems are. And with facebook credits they will even have ownership of financial information Well detailed at

  42. awaldstein

    I’m feeling somewhat outside the AVC tide on this one.Most things are ‘grey’ actually but I agree with Fred that with privacy it’s a squishy position that won’t work.Facebook’s arrogance and remarkably poor ability to be transparent in a social world aggravates me more than their policy switch. I don’t feel misused or lied to as much as being prey to childish random changes.’Opt-out’ is a standard practice but I agree with MarkS that Facebook, ostensibly the definition of social, should have made something as critical as people’s lives an ‘opt-in’ decision. Is this ethics or ignorance and immaturity? I believe the latter although I get of course why folks are incensed.But honestly, I never felt secure on Facebook or anywhere online and a publicly private poise is the one I’ve always adopted. And from the observations on my Facebook wall, things haven’t changed and my community has a predominantly a similar poise.Not belittling trust certainly, just that anything online is a lifegame of sorts that we don’t control. The post I wrote that reflects above the day after F8.

    1. fredwilson

      Do you think our generation feels differently than the facebook generation about this arnold?

      1. awaldstein

        Yes I do Fred.People in their 20s grew up in ‘public’ and seem to have a difference sense of privacy. Social networks are their birthrights and they both define and adopt to them over time. And from the people I talk to, young professionals mostly, this privacy debate has not really impacted them that much nor how they use Facebook.I’ve adopted my publicly private poise, the Facebook generation for the most part I think was born with it. Exceptions of course, but this is social evolution at play.

        1. Tereza

          One rift I find interesting, among people in their mid-to-late thirties (which I’m clinging to with white knuckles) and 40+, is how binary their participation is in FB, LinkedIn and other social media.They’re either quite involved, or absolutely not at all. The least involved in my world are people that are investments bankers and the like — companies that don’t provide them access to Facebook et al during the workday.They do not participate in social media AT ALL. They don’t understand it, they don’t care one iota, it’s just not relevant to them. They think it’s a joke, as if I spend all my days playing online poker or video games.They sorta live on a different planet from me.

          1. awaldstein

            Hi TerezaThnx for sharing.I’ll take the age factor out of the question…and agree with you, that most folks are either on or off the bus so to speak:)If you have a large personal or professional network…family or work or VC or just about any community that seeks to maintain and broaden their reach, the efficiency of the social networks as a category cant’ be beat (be that FB or Disqus or a Meet Up group or whatever). For me, not having these connections is a really bad dream, both professionally and personally.And honestly, in a global, flat world, where our networks are all over and multi-generational and fluid,what business or person doesn’t have the desire or need to gather people that are close to you closer and broaden and touch the new people that you meet?I meet people that don’t ‘network’ infrequently, but I invariably lose touch with them and they can’t be important to me in the long term. I’m not talking about my mom, but about people I work with, orgs I participate with, or the guy at my expresso shop that is an artist or friends of my son who read my blog and on and on.So…long story short..they are on a different planet and I would say a shrinking one that doesn’t require community to flourish or one that is a club that is closed to new members (and approaching extinction).I know I’m preaching to the choir here 😉

          2. Aviah Laor

            Arnold, you don’t think that there is an inherent, human nature, line between public and private events, thoughts, moments in life(as expressed in pictures)? There is a diff. between sharing, public, even being open and the private things. Otherwise it becomes exhibitionism?

          3. awaldstein

            Yes…of course Aviah. I’m certainly NOT saying that there is no difference…just that that line is sliding and my take is that it is somewhat generational. It is not black and white…but the ‘idea’ of a social network let’s you extend the sharing to a broader stage. People, who embrace these platforms and live in public so-to-speak, have a very well defined sense of privacy and core. It just has a different circumference than it might have had. For example…I walk around NYC with a camera cause I love the city, chase my passions and am a very amateur photographer. So I share picture of Jamon, a great little wine bar off of Union Square with some comment on the wines of Ribiera Sacra to my 400 FB friends. Is it exhibitionism? Do they care where I spent my Sunday afternoon and with whom and what wine I drank and my comments on the wines? Actually I’m pleased that I have that platform…get comments on another wine bar to try. A different camera to use. The architecture. And thoughts on the similarities of that street to Barcelona!Are there moments and thoughts that are private from that day…most certainly. Friendship is about sharing. Maturity and common sense is about where you draw the line.

          4. Aviah Laor

            well, you bring the other side of this issue. Maybe the world is less interested in our private staff than we would like to think 🙂

          5. awaldstein

            I think most people are interested in (pls excuse this) interesting and inspirational stuff.I find that I follow and participate in what interests me (this blog, others, certain stuff) and I search out people and art that inspires.Beyond that, personal as personal is of little interest. I’m fine to have my own published public life info looked at in that same way.

          6. awaldstein

            Aviah…have I answered your question? I don’t want to gloss over it in anyway.

          7. Aviah Laor

            That’s because investments bankers know where the butter is spread :)It’s a great point: huge part of this phenomenon is that people are locked hours and days in front of the computer, and need some sort off social engagement. “The slack” is a great book about it

          8. RichardF

            Good point about the social engagement – thanks for the book reference Aviah

          9. awaldstein

            Very true and a good point on both Tereza’a and you part.One of Facebook’s ‘right’ move was the mobile app. A kick duck to make a call, send a private email or check into FB on your phone provided a respite from work and a way to do this outside of the company computer and system.

          10. Aviah Laor

            I watched the talk you gave in London, liked the separation you made between “sharing’ and “social”. Maybe this is the key.

          11. awaldstein

            Maybe…I’ll think on that.

          12. Tereza

            Great point and I think the under-35’s are using the mobile (on their personal, not work phone?).Still, this stubborn clump of 35+ remains with one (work) mobile device and they don’t think they’re particularly missing anything.And no cell phones allowed at the golf club.;-)

        2. Yule Heibel

          In Facebook and “radical transparency” (a rant), danah boyd disputes the idea that younger people care less about privacy. As it happens, I see that with my own kids (age 19 [m] and 16 [f]), who are very private online. They have Facebook accounts, but they barely use them. They don’t use Twitter. They have all sorts of different online accounts, which they inhabit through avatars and which are completely opaque to me. I think the purpose of these avatars is to let them participate in gaming communities and shared role-playing interests (…I think …I’m really not sure) – but it’s on a basis of anonymity and avatars that don’t reveal their actual names. They think I’m weird because I do post data online, under my own name. I tell them I consider FB or Twitter a publishing platform (like my blog). But since they’re more interested in the social and gaming aspects of online experience, they don’t want to “publish,” and want their “stuff” kept private. I’m guessing that if more kids catch on to what Zuck is doing in exposing their information to public view, he’s going to get a sh*t-storm of reaction from his own demographic. He can call those who trusted him with their data “dumb f*cks,” but that’s going to come back to haunt him.PS/Edit: I agree with your take, Fred. Totally private or public, no gray areas. I always considered FB – and of course Twitter – totally public, for publication, even if I have drunktipsy-tweeted on occasion or done other silly things – but nothing too-too embarrassing. 😉 I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that email never slips into the gray. That’s definitely private!

          1. awaldstein

            Hi YuleThanks of this thoughtful comment…and to the link to Danah Boyd’s blog and your own.I am not saying that teens or 20-somethings or our socially-evolved population (including us!) doesn’t care about our privacy. Far from it. I just believe that the line of what is private has shifted and that appears to be generational. Everyone draws a core line around what is ‘private’…it just appears to be drawn in a different arc then it was for my parents, for the majority of my peers and on… My son is older and my contact with teens much less so than those in their 20s and 30s, so I’m don’t want to speak about that which I don’t have current contact with. RE: avatars and the pure anonymous virtual space. I worked in that space for years and it is the antithesis of Facebook in so many ways. In fact, the evolution from anonymous consistent identities (avatars) to open social graphs to life games like FourSquare seems a logical progressions that is following a broader trend. Somewhere recently I read something on that, probably from Robin Harper (social designer of Sim City from Maxis and Second Life… To reclarify…the public/private part of ourselves is what defines us to a great degree and I’m not decrying privacy, just the shift of where the line is drawn now that platforms for social sharing are available.Do I think that Zuck is prone to being a jerk? Without a question and when you insult those you court, they will move on. My gut tells me it is immaturity not evil, but his follow on actions will let us know. People forgive stupid things that people do…but not if they are prove to be who they are at the core.Thnx for the challenge…

          2. Yule Heibel

            Reading through the other comments that flew in via email since yesterday, some of which question the notion of (easily) separating private & public, I wonder whether it’s fair to say that most people, if they have “normal” egos (that is, they’re vulnerable, ambitious, ambivalent), want resonance.I know I don’t like putting all my energy into a black hole that gives nothing back, which is why blogging often grieves me: much of the time, I don’t know whether what I write has any resonance. But I do it anyway – however, if I were an investment banker as per Tereza’s reference, I wouldn’t bother: I’d know where to find resonance elsewhere… ;-).And in the spirit of resonance, I appreciate your reply (sorry if my comment came across as a challenge!) because it represents a connection (“only connect” – remember E.M. Forster?).Resonance is the balm for all our ego trips (and I don’t think anyone, except the odd Bodhisattva or similar enlightened creature, is immune) : we speak so we can be heard, we write so we can be read, we communicate in posts and pictures and puns so someone says, “me too!” or laughs or passes us on to their friends. Media is like the skin of a drum: tap it, make a sound; you hope it resonates; someone else taps back – before you know it you’re in some kind of rhythm. Connecting.I guess it’s a question of controlling – being able to control – the intensity. I publish to the web (blog, tweet, facebook), my kids don’t seek resonance that way at all. Others might be inbetween – they want to be able to engage in performing for their friends (publicly? in view of other friends? so it resonates further?), but are uncomfortable when they discover that they’re more exposed than they thought. Most of us probably have a tipping point where we define when feel-good resonance flips into something not-so-good. I bet that changes over time, as we age, too.Anyway, I don’t think the problem of calibrating resonance at the individual level is new. What is new are the snazzy skins of the drum that makes the noise. I’m in the middle of reading The Book of Firsts: 150 World-Changing People and Events from Caesar Augustus to the Internet (Peter d’Epiro) and came across this parenthetical reference on p.59: “The first temple [of Artemis at Ephesus], one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, had been burned down in 356 BC by a lunatic named Herostratus, who wanted to become famous for his deed.” See, if that happened today, we’d blame the media (“He must have gotten the idea from [radio] [television] [the internet] [facebook] [etc.]”)… But it seems it’s in us to make weird choices, and to set rather interesting parameters for what level of resonance we personally feel comfortable with.That said, for Facebook to make choice difficult and hard to do is, imo, wrong.

          3. awaldstein

            Hi YuleYes, I remember E.M.Forster somewhat. Been a while since I’ve read him and some time since my English/Philosophy Grad days at UBC in Vancouver (I saw that you live in BC). Your writing above challenges and inspires.Two quick comments:-I like the metaphor of media as a drum skin. On Fred’s blog previously, we dug into the idea of ‘data as media’. And in your vernacular, then, data would be the drum skin. I like that. And I agree.-Resonance…yes of course. That is the core of socialization. And the magic of Facebook is that it is (or ‘was’) a rather perfect thread for that to live on online. I’ve held back from the shrill cries against Facebook…I don’t like shrill and and I don’t care for crowd rule that much, but of course Zuck aggravates and I don’t relish being prey to haphazard decisions nor managed by immature thinking.That being said I have all of my setting on Facebook to ‘public’ and still feel comfortable what I blogged on the day after F8 @ for sharing your thoughts.

          4. Yule Heibel

            Hi Arnold, I read your blog post – totally “get” where you’re coming from, and I think as an individual choice, it works. That said, I noticed something funny last night, when I went looking for the profile of one of my virtual friends (that is, someone I’ve interacted with over the years without having met f2f).Her personal profile had disappeared from Facebook (I guess she left), and instead I found this sorta-kinda “official” Facebook page for her. But: it was scraped from Wikipedia! The weird thing: this Facebook page seemed official, but also seemed to be merely a kind of rip-off (of Wikipedia). Simultaneously, it was inviting people to “like” it, and to augment it with more info – as if to usurp the Wikipedia page. Hm, I thought to myself, I haven’t seen this sort of FB page before…Coincidentally, I came across this today: Facebook Hijacks U.S. Government Pages (by Adriel Hampton), which describes the same process happening to U.S. Gov pages. It’s as if FB is colonizing (for want of a better word) brands or identities – in this case, Gov. pages, but also notable people’s Wikipedia pages.That takes the game out of the realm of individual choice (to be or not to be private or public) and gets into completely different questions. Shaping information flow? Becoming a …walled platform for information?It’s a bit off-topic to what Fred’s post began with, but I have to admit that seeing some of those pages (Wiki rip-offs, official sites appearing as clones of themselves on FB) makes me trust FB less and less.

          5. awaldstein

            Hi YuleThnx for taking the time to read my post…and for sharing your thoughts.I’ve heard whispers of other disappearing profile pages with ‘cloned’ wiki replacements. This is odd…and if intentional or sanctioned…just plain weird and wrong. The machinery of the Facebook social engine, if creating this, has become a bit Kafkaesque…which is nothing we need to experience outside of a story. If you come across anything written on this please ping me here, as a comment on my blog post or email me @ [email protected] gov page example is part of the community page rollout communications fiasco. In concept, Facebook made community pages as a community-sourced version of the open web crowd-sourced topical communities. Brands that owned ‘skiing’ as a brand for example, were pushed off the ‘land’ to make way for am ostensibly community-owned topic community. In concept, I get this as part of the process of Facebook trying to balance people and corporations. But it has been a mess of a communications nightmare. There are always corner cases in any large infrastructure change. But when the corners become the norm, something is amiss. There is a lot of anger around this. And understandably. People can handle bad or painful news with logic and clarity. Facebook may have logic and clarity in the boardroom, but there is none in the communications process. As I’ve said before, the dichotomy between a social platform and a seemingly dishonest communications is really a problem.Your points are well taken.But honestly (and I have no reason to defend Facebook), this is not about privacy, it is about mismanagement and lack of concern for the folks who have camped out and spend their lives there. Not privacy…but disregard for honest and transparent communications, which are the key elements of socialization and community.Thanks again for sharing.

          6. awaldstein

            YuleThis conversation inspired a follow on post. Thanks.

  43. William Mougayar

    Sometimes, I wish that FB didn’t become as complicated as it is now. It started as a social network,- then branched as a marketplace, an advertising network, an application platform, etc. And it wants to impose its own ways on us. I wonder what would happen if the majority FB users stopped using FB for 24 hrs for 2 reasons: a) as a protest, b) to see if they get negatively impacted- personally I won’t miss FB if it went away. My biz connections are going thru LinkedIn anyways, and my personal network can go to a less complicated one.That said, part of me tells me there’s a segment of users that don’t care what privacy settings FB mucks with. They will continue using it regardless.

  44. PapaBear

    Facebook Privacy – Has anyone ever understood it!? Well, Matt McKeon, a developer @ the Visual Communication Lab @ IBM Research’s Center for Social Software created this interesting and very clever infographic. He claims this is based on reading their “Terms of Service” over the years.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for that link

  45. rick gregory

    It’s not just privacy, it’s trust and control. Facebook has continually tried to sneak more and more features in that expose your information – look at the forced optin for their personalization pilot. All of a sudden new information that formerly was controlled, isn’t. That violates my trust. It also takes control away from me – they’ve made changes without my consent, which highlights my lack of control in two ways – that they can expose information in new ways and that I can’t control that or have to walk through a byzantine set of options in order to alter settingsSo here we are, with FB emphasizing that it’s their data, not ours and showing us yet again that they can’t be trusted to act in our interests, that they’ll do whatever they think helps them. The privacy issues are almost secondary to the lack of control and loss of trust.

  46. joenandez

    Pretty great post Fred, thanks.

  47. Jong

    I absolutely agree with Fred that privacy is binary, but here’s my question. If you have a fully private network where data is not shared for commercialization and monetization purposes, how do you monetize that network? It seems to be that you would likely need to monetize your users for the utilization of the private network. Is privacy something that people are willing to pay for when it comes to sharing personal information with your network of friends?

  48. Druce

    deleted to avoid dupe – was intended in reply to thread further up

  49. needcaffeine

    the underlying question is…is privacy anti-social? And why integrate with social media, if you want to remain private?

  50. Max Peterson

    “And I think privacy is like that. You either want to be totally public or totally private, but never sort of private and sort of public.”Complete opposite of the truth. Whether I want something public or private and who I would like to share with varies from post to post. What I want is control over who gets to see what and to know ahead of time how it might be spread.Let us also be clear about something else. If you post it on the net it is never completely private.

  51. Rohit Mishra

    The day Facebook thought it was ok to step from being a private network to a “default is public” approach – they made a privacy mess-up that is not easy to solve. There was a clear differentiation – twitter is public, facebook is private – wonder what made FB jump the switch to the public side.

  52. John Menerick

    Indeed. Look at . Enough said. Either you have it or one does not.

  53. Martin Lillich

    You´re right, Fred! A lot of folks are pretty naive about the internet. There´s billions of people behind our computerscreen in the real world out there, and they follow their personal ethics. We better choose carefully what we want to share with them; thoughtless confrontation with someone elses private life can cause bitter embarrassement, doesn´t it?