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March 1, 2011 - 10:14pm

Science Savvy: Privacy please


Last Friday, Facebook casually announced that it would be sharing the addresses and phone numbers of its users with the third-party applications that operate on its site. It would have meant that, had you elected to join one of those bizarre gardening apps or my personal favorite, “Which Teen Mom are you?” you would have been forced to agree to let the app know where you live and how to contact you.

Thankfully for those of us who wish they were young mothers, Facebook changed its brainy mind on Monday night. Responding to a storm of criticism, Facebook announced on its developer blog blog that, “Over the weekend, we got some useful feedback that we could make people more clearly aware of when they are granting access to this data,” and temporarily axed the change.

But for me, it’s too little too late. Facebook has already made its share of privacy and accountability blunders and miscalculations. As the Guardian reported, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg went so far as to say that the “social norm” of privacy is evolving out of existence – that people no longer expect it. My problem with Facebook goes beyond my annoyance about unexpected changes to my privacy settings. As a matter of principal, I’m bothered that the organization’s philosophy doesn’t seem to be one that respects privacy.

Contrary to Mr. Zuckerberg’s opinion, privacy is still important. Important enough to drive the grassroots funding initiative that launched Diaspora,, the open-source social networking system currently in the final stage of development by undergrads at NYU. No ads, no hidden agendas and your information is always yours to share. To me, that sort of personal control is what the internet – this technology we find ourselves continually rediscovering – is all about. So let the diaspora begin.