If Facebook were a government, there’d be riots

A repeated refrain of Facebook’s apologists is that privacy is dead. People are supposed to know that anything on the Internet is up for grabs. It’s digital apartheid: the new digital Brown Shirts say if you’re so precious about your privacy, just stay offline.

But socialising and privacy are hardly mutually exclusive; we don’t walk around in public with our names tattooed on our foreheads. Why can’t we participate in these networks in a measured, controlled way without submitting to the operators’ rampant X-Ray vision? And why can’t the apologists see how they’re sucked into generating the vast fortunes of Zuckerberg et al? It’s nothing inevitable about trading off privacy for conviviality — it’s just more lucrative that way for the PI robber-barons.

The privacy dangers of Facebook are real and present and run so much deeper than the self-harm done by some peoples’ overly enthusiastic sharing. The privacy of millions in the mainstream of Facebook is imperilled. Facebook crowd-sources the identification and constant surveillance of its members. With facial recognition, Facebook is building up detailed pictures of what people do, when, where and with whom. I can be tagged without consent in a photo that was not taken by me, and not uploaded by me. The majority of photos in the cloud were not uploaded for this purpose. And look closely: When you remove a tag, Facebook does not remove the underlying biometric template, nor do they undertake to stop using the template that has been gifted to them by innocents who just think tagging their mates is kinda cool.

It’s not cool, it’s insidious! And it’s rapaciously commercial like everything else they do. Facebook places no limitations whatsoever on the secondary uses it makes of the Personally Identifiable Information it’s generating (which in itself is at odds with European and other privacy law, hence the law suits now underway in Germany).

You know, if a government was stealing into our photo albums, labelling people and profiling them, there would be riots.