Why Randi Zuckerberg’s Facebook privacy issues may be more universal

You may have read about Randi Zuckerberg’s recent issues with Facebook’s privacy settings.

Randi is the sister of Mark, former Director of Market Development for Facebook, television correspondent and creative force behind the recently cancelled reality show: “Start-Ups: Silicon Valley.”    Her holiday troubles were caused by an innocuous picture that she posted on Facebook which “tagged” her sister.  The picture appeared in one of her sister’s friend’s new feeds, the friend shared it on Twitter and Randi was undiplomatic in her response to seeing her picture shared (despite the irony that it was made available on Facebook).

A lot of people justifiably called out R. Z. for being rude on Twitter and for blaming people for sharing something that she made available to them.  She wrote that people should ask others before sharing their photos, which would be reasonable if it wasn’t counterproductive to the functionality that Facebook favors.

How she reacted is for others to gossip about, but what I find illuminating that she reacted at all.  

Smart bomb sharing with dumb bomb technology

On my plane trip back from Seattle this morning, I had opportunity to to re-read a portion of Chris Brogan’s Truth Agents, and one of the passages asserted that people with a high digital aptitude understand that everything that they do will eventually become public.  I think this hypothesis is dissonant from how users are actually behaving on social media.  Zuckerberg may be a prime example.

Here you have the digitally-adept Randi Zuckerberg intending to share a photo exclusively within a circle of friends, only for it to have unintended distribution.  From a larger perspective you see a movement towards privacy in the growth of Instagram and Tumblr with teens and twenty-somethings, with Kathy Savitt proposing that a lot of the fragmentation is because kids don’t want to socialize where their parents and grandparents do.  Shelley Turkle was recently on NPR’s Fresh Air discussing how kids are growing up with less developmental autonomy from their parents because of social media, and a recent study describing that content shared across different social circles is a cause of distress seems to reinforce this.

The conclusions that I take from all of these are the following:

  • Users want easily controllable privacy features
  • Users want to use social media tools for the same purposes that they may use email or some IRL interactions
  • Social networks currently don’t have the privacy controls that their users want

When users like Randi Zuckerberg use gross social tools like Facebook to try and perform specific social actions problems like R.Z.’s happen.  And there isn’t an evident solution, particularly with the segregation among major social networks and fragmentation of niche social networks.

Is Facebook the future?

If Mark Zuckerberg’s sister is appealing for users to discern her intentions before sharing pictures (that Facebook’s OpenGraph placed in their news feed), I suspect that there is a need for a more agile filter that can be both a Facebook and a Path (which is an example of a small-scale closed social network).  If that’s true, I also suspect that the shareholder pressure that Facebook is feeling and Twitter may soon face will prevent them from being able to implement a feature that could assure that intended privacy.

What do you think?  Is the option for users to filter or fragment?  Or is this an isolated example of someone asking Facebook to do something it’s not capable to do?

And I hate to perpetuate gossip (not really), but if you’re looking for a saucier response to R.Z.’s Tweets, you might want to read the comments on this BuzzFeed article.

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at leaderswest.com
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Bill Jones

    It is silliness on the part of sister. Really, you place pictures on the internet and actually expect them to remain “private”. Her brother snoops on people for a living but some how she is special and entitled to her privacy on that of all web sites

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Bill. Totally agree and appreciate you reading and commenting!

  • http://twitter.com/leciel22 Leslie Anneliese

    I have accepted that ANYTHING that touches the Internet risks being “out there” and we should not be shocked when that is exactly what happens. Disappointed, maybe. Anything submitted should always have the filter, “am I ok if this is seen by anyone?” even if only sending an email. The hazards of our time. I have no answer, just an awareness.

    When I was growing up, it didn’t exist. Sometimes I am grateful, since heaven only knows what dumb, youthful things I might have done. Even now I wonder, will they really want to see all the unattractive, never-go-away pics of people sticking out their tongues 20 years from now?

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Leslie for your thoughtful comment. I totally agree with you, but I suspect that there is a population of social media users who like Randi Zuckerberg believes that they can keep a level of privacy despite the public nature of social networks. I think you’d really enjoy Shelly Turkle’s insights because she examines how lack of boundaries and privacy are impacting the development of teenagers and young adults. Thanks again for your insight!

  • http://www.cendrinemarrouat.com/ Cendrine Marrouat

    I think she needs to get a grip. Anything you share on social media eventually becomes public — whether you want it or not. I am surprised Mark’s sister is unaware of that. Or maybe she thought she was entitled to a special treatment…

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Cendrine! I dunno about the special treatment but the fact that she is was such a big deal at Facebook and didn’t understand how her photos could be distributed indicates that they have a problem, doesn’t it? :)

      • http://www.cendrinemarrouat.com/ Cendrine Marrouat

        They have a bigger problem than they think they have, actually.

  • http://twitter.com/MomsThoughts MomsThoughts™

    I would appreciate tighter privacy on Facebook, that said, I also appreciate anything on the internet is no longer private. ever. (By tightening privacy on Facebook, you just make it harder for someone to share…which may inhibit some sharing)

  • James Plunket

    This is a very pertinent topic. Maybe the opportunity for a developer is to devise a tagging system that limits the distribution of a picture to within a set number of connections away from the original subscriber. If Randi wanted her picture to be seen by her immediate friends, she could place a “level 1” limit to the picture’s distribution. If she wanted to allow her friends to send it on to only their friends, then a “level 2” limit would apply. If she had no qualms about its general distribution, she could assign it “unlimited”. By enabling such a control within each image, the capability of onward distribution would be remain in the hands of the originator. Any attempt to pass on “limited” images would see the picture omitted from the forwarded communication.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks James for reading and commenting! I think that you propose a brilliant idea that people probably wouldn’t use. I think the percentage of people using groups in Facebook is estimated between 10 and 20% (which is probably generous), It would have to be pretty automatic for widespread usage, but who wants intuitive filters? It’s a conundrum for sure, and I’m glad there are smarter people than I (you for instance) thinking about it! Thanks again for reading and commenting!