Does Facebook success mean privacy not important?

Let's get one thing straight Facebook is handy; allowing you pretty much instant access to a wealth of friends and enabling you to share all sorts of interesting info with them.

It's also a great platform for the individual, meaning people can use the service for self-promotion without the need for a company which, arguably, gives a degree of power and socio-economic viability previously unknown.

Now, no-one is pretending that Facebook is perfect - and a good thing too, as it's not - but it's perhaps particularly interesting to look at some of the concerns over the social network at the time of its 500 million user announcement. And just to place the Facebook milestone in context, this 500 million users equates to roughly 1 in 3 people in the UK - a third of people on the Internet and 1 out of every 13 on the planet.

Privacy is a classic concern for many people, as it's pretty obvious that plastering the web with photos and info about yourself will reduce it. This is fine when you can tweak those oh-so-easy privacy settings in your account, but as is happening now, Facebook is beginning to encompass the whole of the web. Facebook "like" and "share" buttons are only the beginning as it attempts to glean a greater amount of info about what you buy and your tastes and interests.

This, however, is not such a problem as long as you go into it with your eyes open, and the issue of sharing photos and the like shouldn't be a problem in the long run; the more people that join Facebook and do exactly the same sort of sharing, the more it'll become the norm - meaning it'll allow for a new type of transparency and perhaps even start to look a bit strange if you're not sharing everything - a mentality of "what's he/she got to hide?" will begin, and as Zuckerberg said , the age of privacy is over - oh joy.

Flippancy aside, however, and it becomes a problem when the company you're entrusting this info to, shows a disregard for the user - as is perhaps the case during Facebook's privacy settings fiasco. Let us remember this is a company that has grown very fast, and is owned by a 26-year-old who gives the impression, at least, of someone who doesn't really know how they arrived at this point. This is not to say Facebook, as a construct, is bad per ce but is a platform that has developed quicker than some people's ability to use it responsibly.
 
However, let's credit people with a bit of intelligence, if you're worried about privacy you'll invest time in adjusting your settings accordingly, and just as Google controls the search engine sector, we'll see Facebook controlling the social one - if you want to connect with someone online you'll end up going through Facebook.

Apart from the slightly disturbing idea of one company having that much info about such a large proportion of the world's population - after all knowledge is power - there is one other area which might be of concern to Facebook users.

This is the idea that we're all doing the same kind of socialising as before only on a much bigger scale. Whereas before we'd have one persona at the school disco by looking cool and strutting our stuff, another at home with our parents and another with our gran, we can now, if we want, do something similar in front of thousands rather than a handful of people. This might be true to an extent, but it is different in that Facebook places us in a virtual bubble in which we are far more likely to show a side of ourselves that we might otherwise keep hidden.

The danger of this is that it can skew our perceptions of others, as Facebook is not, in its present form, set up to deal with people's multiple personas in all their complexity; as the way Facebook allows users to connect with each other is carefully orchestrated. We do not have one simple identity - which Facebook would like us to have - we have many.

So where does that leave us? Well, either we decide that there are better ways of interacting, without the need to give over quite so much information, or - as is far more likely - we'll carry on sharing data with each other and large multi-nationals in a bid to become more noticed by others.

There's no doubt that sharing information, to a degree, is a good thing, it can be a great resource, but let's try and keep the extent of that sharing in our own hands and not leave it to Zuckerberg to dictate.

What do you think? Is Facebook here to stay? Are you happy with the service, or do you think it needs sorting? Let us know in the comments below.