Ignorance is Strength, Opt-In is Opt-Out

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Via Twitter, Jack Schafer directs our attention to a New York Times Q&A with Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president for public policy. “Newspeak from Facebook’s top flack,” he calls it, and perhaps that’s a wee bit unfair. Some of Schrage’s answers are contrite (“we’ll do better, promise”) and some are admirably direct (“that’s how Facebook works, get used to it”). But this one sure seems like classic Newspeak:

Why not simply set everything up for opt-in rather than opt-out? Facebook seems to assume that users generally want all the details of their private lives made public.

Everything is opt-in on Facebook. Participating in the service is a choice. We want people to continue to choose Facebook every day. Adding information — uploading photos or posting status updates or “like” a Page — are also all opt-in. Please don’t share if you’re not comfortable. That said, we certainly will continue to work to improve the ease and access of controls to make more people more comfortable. Your assumption about our assumption is simply incorrect. We don’t believe that. We’re happy to make the record on that clear.

Perhaps I should be charitable. Maybe Schrage misunderstood the question. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding something. But saying that “participating in the service” or uploading a photo constitutes opting in is sort of Orwellian, no? The issue, of course, is that the vast majority of Facebook users have no idea that the default privacy setting for their photo galleries is “friends of friends” or that the default setting for Likes is “everyone on the planet.” They probably assume that only their friends can see this stuff. So why not make that the default, and allow users to affirmatively opt in to wider distribution if they want?

As a bonus, if this stuff were opt in, I’ll bet Facebook would miraculously get a whole lot better at making privacy settings easier to use and more visible. It’s funny how that works.

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