Sunday, 16 May 2010

Facebook: too public or too private?

There has been a lot of condemnatory talk recently on Twitter and elsewhere about Facebook's allegedly cavalier attitude to privacy. The argument is that there have been creeping, and concealed (or at least, not transparent) changes to the privacy policy since Facebook's inception, that have steadily eroded the ability of users to keep their information out of the public domain. There's also the fact that setting privacy controls on Facebook accurately to reflect one's intentions is not a trivial matter.

An interesting counter argument has been put forward by Robert Scoble, who basically says that he does (and, he implies, everyone else ought to) act as if everything he writes on the Web is available to be read by the whole world, and that, if anything, Facebook's problem is not that it's too public, but that it isn't public enough.

Personally, I think both arguments have merits, but the key point for me revolves around expectation and trust. Facebook's Mr Zuckerburg created a site which started out as one thing (a private place) and gradually converted it into something else. The way he did it has all the appearance of subterfuge. Some argue that most users don't care - either know and don't care, or don't know and wouldn't care if they did. That might be true, but it's not the point. The point is that it's been done in a rather sneaky way.

I've not closed my own Facebook account, nor have I (tried to) ban my children from using it - in fact, I've just helped one sign up today. But I have made sure all the settings are for 'friends only' where possible. This of course won't stop some information leaking out, which is the cue for the next lesson, regarding which I agree with Robert Scoble: assume everything you post could be read by anyone, someday.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Social Computing, new government, smoke-filled rooms

As I write, after several exciting days of speculation and intrigue concerning the composition of the next government, David Cameron is putting the finishing touches to his cabinet. There was, of course, a massive amount of Twittering going on during that period, and I for one had one eye permanently on Tweetdeck. The other was on the BBC website's live updates page, and it was interesting to note that some of the breaking news came from tweets written by politicians or aides.

In contrast to the openness and transparency of the activity on the social networks, the actual negotiations were taking place in great secrecy, with ne'er a leak. The only exception I know of is the mini-scoop by a Guardian photographer who got a shot of Nick Clegg's list of negotiating points. Some commentators objected to this 'horse-trading', saying that it was undemocratic to have a small coterie of individuals determining the next government. Personally I found that view strange and rather naive. I would argue that the country gave the three main parties the right to negotiate a government by not granting an overall majority to any of them, and that such negotiations would be much slower and might not work at all if they weren't confidential.

But this isn't supposed to be a political blog. Since my interest is the use of social computing within organisations I'm now thinking what the implications for it might be of the formation of this new government. Clearly the biggest issue is going to be the impact of the tax rises and public spending cuts that will be necessary to tackle the deficit. These will put great pressure on companies - and public sector bodies - to get more from less. And I stand by my previous post on that subject. I also feel optimistic - at the moment - that we might be entering a new era in which politicians co-operate more in the national interest, instead of trying to score points all the time, and that this chimes well with the sort of altruistic behaviour that is often seen on the Web. Perhaps this will help lead more companies along the road to Enterprise 2.0 - whilst not changing the fact that some decisions need to be taken confidentially in a (probably smoke-free) boardroom.