Facebook, Google, Privacy, the BBC, the decade and Edward Stourton

A review of “Defining the Decade – A Googling We Go” on iPlayer – which will be available for the next 6 days, if you missed it:

It is described:

Edward Stourton tries to make sense of a decade in which history has been put on fast forward. There has been a revolution in the way we communicate, widespread alarm about the planet’s very survival and a challenge to the world order. What does it mean for the way we live as we head into 2010?

The impact of the internet – dreamt up by visionaries, embraced by commerce and full of (not always welcome) surprises.

…covering y2k, search, the usual dotcom relics, the rise of blogging, social networking, the usual confusion between journalists/musicians and paper/music distribution, and so forth.

One of the key points – for me at least – was raised by Chris Cox from Facebook saying:

[at the 23:45 mark]

There are occasional incidents, but by and large I think Facebook continues to be a very very safe place to be, and y’know the alternative is being on the internet with no privacy control.

…and I thought “oh really?”

My experience at London Facebook Garage in November 2007 was to be told by the Facebook UK Commercial Director that Facebook is a ’social utility’ which exists purely as a space to attract advertising revenue. (ref)

So in Facebookland you can either suffer adverts, or live in the wilderness and have no privacy/safety? There is a vested interest in keeping the tension between “you must give us your data, but we say what happens to it” going as long as possible, so that peoples’ information is kept out in the open where it can be stripmined.

Compare the recent change in privacy settings, to the position in 2007:

Wednesday, 12 September 2007, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK

Facebook’s 40 million users should not worry that personal details will be available to anyone searching the net.

That was the message from executives at the social network who are in London to set up their first overseas office.

Facebook’s plan to make user profiles available to search engines has provoked anxiety amongst some users and attacks from privacy campaigners.

But the firm’s head of privacy said that the idea that personal data would be exposed was “completely wrong”.

“The only data that will be available is your profile picture and your name – and then only if you agree that your profile should be searchable,” said Chris Kelly.

Fortunately Cox is wrong in his assertion – there’s nothing to prevent you enabling your own access control. There’s nothing to stop you being a node. Not least, this is what themineproject is all about.

Cox goes on to make some good points about how the Baby Boomers and Generation-Xers seethe with fear and a lack of understanding of “audience reach” – hence “Facebook Monster Ate My Hamster” tabloid stories – but that will fade rapidly once we/they’ve all either gotten a clue, or died out.

The programme makes good points about Google’s caving-in towards the Chinese censorship issue; the extent of Eric Schmidt’s accommodation of the Chinese control is quite astonishing to hear. Cory Doctrow lacerates him.

But regards the essence of the programme? In the midst I found it most telling how Edward Stourton said that the beer bottle dominoes video must have been produced by “quite a sad person”. Even if he was trying to goad his interviewee into a position a-la “The Today Programme”, he clearly doesn’t “get it”. The beer-bottle video is not fantastic, but I am glad that *somebody* made it.

I suspect it wasn’t made with the intention of getting a million hits, but that it has had them means it appeals to *some* audience.

Stourton’s attitude stands in stark contrast to Hans Keller’s famous 1967 interview of Syd Barratt and Roger Waters of The Pink Floyd, at the start of which, after a long and deeply critical preface he says:

[watch from the 00:47 mark]

[point 4] they have an audience and people who have an audience ought to be heard [so] perhaps it’s my fault that i don’t appreciate them

Stourton would be well advised to learn humility and perspective from his elders.

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