Why I do not like Facebook’s photo sync feature

I can’t help but think that Facebook’s perpetual evolution to improve “user experience” is disingenuous.  Their new option to automatically sync all mobile photos to Facebook is a Pandora’s Box, and I kind of hate it.

It seemed innocent enough….

When the photo sync option appeared on my phone I opted in without thinking too much about what this meant.  Their assurances of privacy were surprisingly effective:

“Only you can see the photos you’ve synced from your phone. Your photos are saved privately in a section of your Facebook Photos that only you can see. When you view your synced photos, you can choose shots to share or send in a private message.”

So now Facebook is privy to all of my photos though my friends can’t see them.  It’s pretty easy to see how this could be problematic: data plan overages / throttling (though there is a WiFi only option), the typical Facebook privacy snafus, or maybe just the “big picture” question of why Facebook needs to use pictures that I don’t intend to share.

There’s a reason that I edit my social posts

If there are two things that people love doing on social networks is looking at pictures and reveling in people’s mistakes.  Many of us have taken inappropriate photos or videos.  Maybe they’re appropriate to specific audiences and not others.  Maybe they’re locked away in a computer or camera or phone. In any case, we choose how we represent ourselves to others.

As many celebrities have shown us that one inappropriate picture or video can go viral quickly. It just takes one computer break down (a la Edison Chen), a hack, or an accidental text to make private content public.  Alcohol fuels a little more inhibition than is appropriate and it is recorded in Facebook’s Open Graph.  And Facebook’s efficiency and opacity aren’t reassuring at all:

“We generally try to sync your photos as soon as you take them. However, we also take into account a number of factors, such as your battery level and sync settings. New photos that you take will be privately synced as you take them. In your syncing settings, you can choose to sync over WiFi and your cellular network, sync or over WiFi only, or turn syncing off entirely. You can also choose to sync all photos in your camera roll over WiFi and see how much storage space you have available.”

In other words, I may no longer be in control of how I am perceived online.  I’m baffled by the articles that I’ve read claiming this was a wonderful thing.  Maybe if you were archiving a photograph with good fidelity it might serve a purpose, but Facebook photographs are compressed pretty significantly.  So, it seems to me that this function has far more benefit to Facebook than to any user who opts-in.

I don’t trust Facebook

When it comes down to it, I just don’t trust Facebook.  They’ve been a poor steward of user and developer trust, and it’s gotten noticeably worse since they went public.

I see disclaimers on people’s timelines appealing for privacy rights and copyright protection.   People are up in arms that Facebook wants to eliminate public voting on their privacy changes.  While I empathize, I think that people need to take more personal responsibility for their own privacy.  Opting out of features like photo sync is one way to accomplish this.

The only choice if you dislike a feature or service is not use it, and I’m choosing not to use photo sync.  Ideally, you should control what you put on Facebook and what you want specific people to know.  The benefit to Facebook to capture more data in Facebook’s Open Graph far outweighs any convenience that photo sync offers users.

What do you think?  Is photo sync a better feature than I give it credit for?

Uyen Thorstensen

Uyen Thorstensen

Full Time Faculty/Coordinator at North Seattle Community College teaching Pharmacy Techs. Part Time Technician at UW Medical Center