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Frances Bell :: Blog :: Tom Hodgkinson’s rant on (or should I say about?) Facebook

January 16, 2008

Tom Hodgkinson (in the old media corner) squares up against the new(ish) contender Facebook.  A quick google search reveals that Tom does have an Internet profile: he tells us that he plays the ukulele, and he does blog about his current reading in a convergent media fashion.  Also, anyone who has a web site called the Idler (with a background of snails) can’t be all bad.

I found Tom’s article to be quite informative in parts but tiresomely Luddite in other parts.  I do have some concerns about the ownership of media, being in a family that resists Sky cable because of Murdoch (and on my part because of all that football).  Josie Fraser has some interesting comments on the dilemmas of ownership and profit and the non-neutrality of technology.  She also picks him up on the generalisations he makes about the alienating effects of technology.  To me this dystopic view detracts from some of the really interesting comments he makes on the financing of Facebook and legal issues.  A sharp analysis of Facebook it isn’t – and neither is this blog post but I’ll content myself with a preliminary de-construction of his analysis of Facebook’s privacy policy.

Facebook's privacy policy

1 We will advertise at you

"When you use Facebook, you may set up your personal profile, form relationships, send messages, perform searches and queries, form groups, set up events, add applications, and transmit information through various channels. We collect this information so that we can provide you the service and offer personalised features."

Yes, you would have to be pretty stupid not to realise that Facebook is ‘free’ because of the market data supplied by its users.  An urgent need is to increase media literacy amongst the general population so they can make their own decisions about what they supply/reveal.

2 You can't delete anything

"When you update information, we usually keep a backup copy of the prior version for a reasonable period of time to enable reversion to the prior version of that information."

It’s good to question what Facebook mean by this, and to assess the significance of Facebook’s willingness to change their policy under pressure. Tom Hodgkinson’s interpretation that this initial resistance will soon die away is open to question.  One thing that is noticed about SNS is that people move on, and maybe we should be pushing for what we want in terms of privacy.  The alternative – Stay away! Don’t engage! Ensures that you will definitely have no say in how technology is implemented and appropriated.

3 Anyone can glance at your intimate confessions

"... we cannot and do not guarantee that user content you post on the site will not be viewed by unauthorised persons. We are not responsible for circumvention of any privacy settings or security measures contained on the site. You understand and acknowledge that, even after removal, copies of user content may remain viewable in cached and archived pages or if other users have copied or stored your user content."

Another very strong argument for media literacy not banning.  Do we keep our children indoors so they won’t get run over? Or help them be safe on the roads so they can achieve independence of us?

4 Our marketing profile of you will be unbeatable

"Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (eg, photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalised experience."

An even stronger argument for media literacy in a convergent media world – since it is not only us who can post information about ourselves.

5 Opting out doesn't mean opting out

"Facebook reserves the right to send you notices about your account even if you opt out of all voluntary email notifications."

But they don’t very much do they?  And if there was a big security problem, we’d want them to , wouldn’t we?

6 The CIA may look at the stuff when they feel like it

"By using Facebook, you are consenting to have your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States ... We may be required to disclose user information pursuant to lawful requests, such as subpoenas or court orders, or in compliance with applicable laws. We do not reveal information until we have a good faith belief that an information request by law enforcement or private litigants meets applicable legal standards. Additionally, we may share account or other information when we believe it is necessary to comply with law, to protect our interests or property, to prevent fraud or other illegal activity perpetrated through the Facebook service or using the Facebook name, or to prevent imminent bodily harm. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, agents or government agencies."

Now he’s getting to it.  We really should be discussing this, and I think it is a pity this wasn’t the main focus of the article.  He should start a discussion group about this – maybe on Facebook.

Overview for Keywords: Facebook, Guardian, media literacy, privacy, rant

Blogs with Keywords: Facebook, Guardian, media literacy, privacy, rant

Posted by Frances Bell


  1. Great post Frances. You are exactly right - most of the points he raises are a big call for better/some kind of new media literacy.

    I don't think any of the current sites have clear enough policies on how they handle data, especially given how many under 18 year old users they have. There are legal requirements and procedures for sites to hand over data at certain times - for example in case of harassment and other illegal activity. Any data access to Government agencies falling outside of data protection legislation is something I'm sure everyone would want to know about.

    There’s no reason why consumers shouldn’t hold internet based companies accountable for the same range of issues that they have done for trainer manufacturers or tea producers:
    What are the working conditions of their employees; what are they doing about environmental issues relating to data storage and processing; how ethical are their working and investment practices.



    Josie FraserJosie Fraser on Wednesday, 16 January 2008, 17:50 GMT # |

  2. I have just returned from the theatre (Ideal Husband - great play!) on the train along with some noisy Man City fans so my reply is in the form of a football chant!

    No utopia ! no dystopia !

    What do we want?  Social shaping (of technology)

    When do we want it? Now (and always)

    The parts in brackets are sotto voce so as not to ruin the scan. 

    Frances BellFrances Bell on Thursday, 17 January 2008, 00:34 GMT # |

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