Note: this is an updated version of my April 28th post on the theme of Social Web Pathology.
I’ve been pondering the theme of “Social Web 2.0 Pathology: Are We Connected Yet?”, and will introduce it with this mild example. Today’s post will then assess recent developments in our vanishing degrees of separation.
The date of this graphic was April 16, 2010 thus it does not contain the very consequence-laden “Like” button. Facebook announced the release of the Like button to the World Wide Web domains-at-large at the F8 conference on April 22.
There is a recent development, and it should encourage advocates of the individual’s right to privacy. U.S. Congressman Charles Schumer has an awareness of the potential for abuse via social networking, due to accelerated data sharing. He seems to have focused his concerns around the announcement at F8 of Facebook’s Open Graph and Like button data collector. Media coverage by wire services such as Reuters – Schumer vs Facebook was prompt: Congressman Schumer explicitly stated his concern over negative impact on the consumer’s right to privacy. Shortly after, Schumer was joined by other lawmakers, who proposed a sweeping internet privacy bill on May 4, 2010, indicating grave concern over the potential risks due to information disclosure resulting from participation in social networks. Not surprisingly, Facebook was mentioned by name, as it has been on the leading edge of the social media innovation.
What abuses might result from the Like button, and by whom? The abusers could be hackers aka crackers. Their method of infiltration might include harvesting of newly accessible personal data (mostly due to recent trends in over-sharing) using social engineering techniques. Alternatively, the traditional exploits involving unauthorized elevation of privilege would remain viable. Such is now facilitated by easier password breaking due to a larger pool of availale data. This becomes more straightforward as we tie ourselves closer and tighter together, along with our most critical identifying information via Social Networking sites and applications.
The other source of abuse might be from Facebook itself, due to sharing of user’s personal information with third-parties. FB announced policy that users will no longer have an opt-out feature available, regarding disclosure of certain basic identifying data.
Maybe the need to prove to one and all that “I have the most friends”, a sort of Web 2.0 version of Thorstein Veblen’s concept of “status seeking” and “conspicuous consumption”, will be reined in (see Professor Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899). While the impulse is present in most of us, many resist the temptation. FB was well-designed, though, because it seems to have overwhelmed common sense for even the most reticent of us. Similar observations could be applied to the rise of Farmville. With 86 million players, this game that seems primarily motivated by guilt (Professor Howard Linn wrote a paper on the subject shortly before his death earlier this year) has spread like wildfire. We will hope that Congressional scrutiny will slow the onslaught of the Like button, and hold it in check until the consequences are more carefully considered.