Facebook's New 'Privacy' Scheme Smells Like an Anti-Privacy Plot

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg issued an open letter to his 350+ million users; you probably saw it this morning when logging in. Facebook will kill regional networks like "New York." Why? To trick you.

That, we admit, is just our shameless, cynical speculation. Facebook wants people to share their content with everyone, like on rival hot-startup Twitter, but most people are content just sharing with their regional networks. So why not kill the regionals and push users to share with the world by default?

Paranoid? Maybe. But this conspiracy theory happens to fit snugly with what facts are known:

  • Many users now restrict their content to regional networks like the city in which they live.
  • Facebook recently introduced a feature allowing people to share their content even more widely, with everyone, Twitter style. But, frustratingly for Facebook, most people don't use this, as TechCrunch points out.
  • When it kills the regional networks, Facebook will introduce new privacy "controls that we think will be better for you." Read: "We'll be making decisions of various sorts on your behalf."
  • Zuckerberg encourages everyone to "read through all your [privacy] options and customize them for yourself." This implies you don't have to do that, if you're comfortable with Facebook's new privacy scheme and whatever default decisions the company has made.
  • Even if you do customize your privacy settings, Facebook will "suggest settings for you based on your current level of privacy." Read: If you're sharing with your regional network, we'll probably suggest you share with the world.

This wouldn't be the first time Facebook ham-fistedly pushed users into oversharing; the social network is still infamous for Beacon, the spammy advertising scheme that automatically sucked up data from outside websites, ruining engagement proposals and holiday gift surprises and eventually prompting a lawsuit. Facebook finally shut the thing off in September.

Unlike Beacon, which users could not opt out of at launch, this new "privacy" scheme will immediately be customizable by users. Zuckerberg has thus avoided a major mistake this time around. What's more, his "open letter" shows a newfound appreciation for the power of PR gestures, even softball PR gestures painfully short on actual details (those will come in the "next couple of weeks," says Zuckerberg).

But, smiley-face posturing aside, users should never forget that Facebook remains, at heart, not a community but a Silicon Valley startup, always hungry for exponential growth and new revenue streams. So be sure to review those new privacy "options," and take Facebook's recommendations with a huge grain of salt.

(Pic: Zuckerberg, by Silverisdead on Flickr)