Facebook is testing yet another feature that allows users to set a time for their status updates to disappear after a certain period of time. The feature is currently only available for certain people using the iOS app. Unlike Snapchat, which allows users to set a time limit of only up to 10 seconds for a photo, this new Facebook feature has a range of 1 hour to 7 days.
As Schneier argues, ephemeral messaging is very hard to get right. Thus, until we see evidence to the contrary, I would treat this new feature with as much skepticism as similar apps like Snapchat. This isn’t to say that ephemerality is inherently bad. The article does point out that “We need ephemeral apps, but we need credible assurances from the companies that they are actually secure and credible assurances from the government that they won’t be subverted.”
Until we do have secure ephemeral messaging, the best way to keep private information private is probably to refrain from posting or sending it in the first place. In the meantime, regardless of the security of ephemeral messaging, some messages just shouldn’t be posted at all. For example, unless you absolutely trust everyone on your friend list, a status update such as “I’m heading to Italy for a 2 week vacation” could be an invitation to burglarize your home. Does it matter that such a message disappears after 1 hour? The cat’s already out of the bag.
In recent years, a question has been raised: Who should have access to your online accounts after your death? Apparently, a group of lawyers are trying to make it easier for your loved ones to get access. The article notes that “the plan is likely to frustrate some privacy advocates.”
However, I had a partially opposite reaction. Given Facebook’s recent record, I think I would hesitate before labeling Facebook the champion of user privacy. As a society, have we really gotten to the point where the secrets we share with companies like Facebook are more intimate than the secrets we share with our loved ones? Personally, I think if you have secrets stored on Facebook that you would hesitate to share with your loved ones, you should consider the possibility that you might be confiding in (e.g. sending private messages, making wall posts, giving biographical details) Facebook just a little bit too much.
That said, I said that my reaction was only “partially” opposite because everyone has secrets, and there may be other online services that do contain information that the deceased would wish to keep from their loved ones. For the sake of my privacy, though, I would hope if there are such secrets, the service in question is one that is worthy of my trust.
In the last 24 hours, there have been a lot of stories about Facebook running a psychology experiment on its users. Reactions included the following arguments: that it was bad science, that it breached ethical guidelines, and even that it might have been illegal (although there is at least some dispute as to its legality). In general, many people seem to believe that Facebook “totally screwed with a bunch of people in the name of science.” Admittedly, not everyone agrees, but there is no denying Continue reading Facebook psychology studies and privacy