I feel that the new kind of changes Facebook introduced are a really big deal for everyone and our future, not just at Facebook but for any kind of social media. They didn't do well introducing them, which they're now comfortable saying. Also, there might be some positions which people of good will might find debatable, but reasonable people can disagree and compromise.
There were some genuine blunders, like a bug in advertiser-related code, fixed quickly, and which were misreported in the press.
My take is that the big problem has to do with explanations that didn't do any explaining.
Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
This is my attempt to simplify and reset the discussion.
Attitude: 1) treat others like you want to be treated. 2) Now and then, give the other person a break. (aka "you are your brother's/sister's keeper.")
That is, we should all play well with others. Be nice.
Here's my take on the thing, written from a customer service perspective, looking from the bottom up. Keep in mind that when I say "Facebook" I'm also thinking "any social networking platform."
Online social networking is in the same spirit as everyday, real life, people talking to people.
However, the online part also means that you carry with you a pretty heavy identity, including who your friends are, the friends of your friends, your tastes and other history. Also, it means that maybe your extended friends of friends network might be able to see more about you than you know. Online also means that disinformation, like planted rumors, can spread pretty fast, and people still fall for that.
Trying to keep things simple... the networking world is about people, groups of people, and stuff they want to talk about.
People have identities, sometimes called "profiles", and groups and companies, etc, can also have similar identities.
People have friends, who in turn, have friends, eventually connecting everyone. That extended kind of network is called a "social graph", where "graph" is an unnecessarily technical term that's a pain in the butt.
There are other people out there who you don't know, but who might be providing goods and services that they might want to sell you. Maybe we need a term for them that's catchy, just for discussion, like "strangers" since at first, we don't know 'em. (I'd like a better term.)
Privacy is a big deal here, since you might want to disclose personal stuff only to friends, and for sure, you want to control what advertisers see about you.
Note that there's a generation gap regarding privacy. People of my advanced years are pretty private regarding personal stuff, but I hear that the youngsters, particularly Millenials, are pretty open about everything. We need the tools to make nearly everyone happy, and to keep it simple.
So, you might want a privacy user interface that starts simple, like either choosing to reveal all or nothing. More realistically, maybe it should default to asking you what you should automatically reveal to friends, friends of friends, or strangers.
Then, if you want, you can fine tune who can see what.
I believe Facebook's moving in this direction.
Now, let's suppose you want to engage a stranger or they want to engage you, like you visit their site, or maybe they want to place an ad on your feed. Better service means tailoring the engagement with personal info about you.
To play fair and to show respect, I feel that they should ask what's okay with you. That means a little software which asks your profile for pertinent personal data, like:
-- Hey, do you have default privacy settings which already give permission to get that personal data?
-- If not, the stranger needs to ask, maybe via popup, hey, can I access some specific personal data? In return, I can provide better service to you.
The software which does the actual request would have to be from Facebook, to ensure security and safety of your stuff.
Facebook advertising is a special case, where ads are shown to you based on aggregate demographic and self-reported information like your likes and interests. [that's a correction]. Your information is NOT disclosed to advertisers. However, there's was a bug for a brief time in which something was accidentally disclosed, and fixed. This was not reported accurately in the media, and greatly overblown.
There're social contracts here, probably enforceable legally, like Facebook has to agree to share only with your informed consent, and that strangers can share only with your informed consent.
So, the deal is that you get to share personal data only when you want to, maybe to get better service. That means like seeing only ads that you might be interested in, or maybe getting the news and weather that means anything to you.
All this means is that you get to connect to way more people and strangers than you can in everyday life, but we all gotta play well with each other.
Follow Craig Newmark on Twitter: www.twitter.com/craignewmark