Why do we give Facebook less hassle for proxy sharing in Place than we gave Google for Buzz?
I was furious about Buzz on a personal level; it did the initial turn-itself-on thing on a Gmail account I don't want to have share anything with anyone and I had the emotional response to having the system interfere in my personal life. With Facebook Places, in which you can label your friends as being in a certain place at a certain time without their permission, I laughed at Ed Bott's tweet saying he was setting up a weekly Outlook reminder to check his Facebook privacy settings, then I thought 'I should check my Facebook privacy settings' and I found the new Places proxy checkin option marked to tell me I should look at it, promptly disabled it and all I thought was 'oh look, Facebook got privacy wrong again'. (In my own defence, I did have flu...)
People don't like the idea of being checked in to a place by friends; at least not the friends of Advertising Age writer Kunur Patel whose reactions ranged from the honest 'hey, I tell social lies - don't rat me out!' to the thoughtful 'I manage my social networks and Facebook is the big list of vaguely familiar people I don't give precise details to'. Checking you in to a place on Facebook is very different from tagging your Twitter handle when I say I'm out for a drink; both could give the lie to your claim to be home with flu, but only one is precise and easy to find in a targeted search.
The things people say on Twitter and Facebook are the same things we've always said in bars and pubs and coffee shops and at lunch counters and office kitchens; we've always said them in 'private' conversations in public places where the privacy is a function of us knowing who is around, and of people who might want to track us having to put in way too much effort for what most of us are talking about. The volume and generality of Twitter has a similar effect for location at the moment; searching for Samovar in San Francisco - a tea lounge close to the Moscone Center that's one of the best places for overhearing people say intriguing things about their new startup as they pitch for funding or the details of their job developing system software for the first iPhone in a job interview - means that out of a whole page of results the only people I can be sure have been there are the ones who have chosen to forward Foursquare checkins to Twitter. The others are in Mumbai or at a kitchenware shop or on a train in Russia…
Facebook Places takes the identifiable locations of Foursquare and ties them to the unmanaged acquaintance list we've all been building up on Facebook. Think of the number of people who've managed to commit resignation by Facebook update when they forgot their boss was reading their updates. Do you want someone you haven't seen since college checking you in at a bar - whether you're there or not? The whole idea is bound to cause embarrassments and arguments - and yet the response doesn't seem to have any of the fervour of the criticism of Buzz (and I've seen more complaints about Facebook squashing Foursquare than I have about the problem of letting other people say where you are). Does the fact that someone has to make a decision to over-share on your behalf rather than the service doing it automatically make enough of a difference? Are we just tired out by how many times Facebook has changed its privacy settings to make new features privacy compromising to get the network effect? Or has it just become fashionable to bash Google, what with the mistakes of Buzz and the failure of Wave and the privacy issues of Gmail and StreetView and the StreetView cars and the call for Google not to distort the AdWords auctions by bidding on keywords itself and Google redefining net neutrality like Humpty Dumpty and whatever else bothers you about Google this week...
Once a company reaches a certain size and influence level, it almost doesn't matter what it does; it's going to make enemies. Google's motto is don't be evil, a silicon valley entrepreneur commented to us last year, but it kills about a business model a week. I predicted a Google backlash any time in the last five years; should I predict a Facebook backlash now - or are we just tired of reacting to the news that online companies don't care about our privacy as long as the ad dollars keep rolling in?