Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Facebook privacy conundrum

Facebook just backed down and reverted to its old privacy policy, after the massive backlash started by privacy advocates. The interesting thing is Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg comments on the official Facebook blog (and he's got a followup post stating the return to the old terms).

In the first post, something struck a friend of mine familiar with the .tel, and she emailed me about it. Zuckerberg wrote:

People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people's information. These two positions are at odds with each other. There is no system today that enables me to share my email address with you and then simultaneously lets me control who you share it with and also lets you control what services you share it with.

Well that's one of the unique problems .tel can solve. Imagine that I give you as my central point of contact. You want to send me an email. You fire up your mail client and type in the "To:" field "". The mail client understands that this is a .tel and automatically looks up my associated email address(es), including the private one given just to you. You choose the one you want (or it's automatically chosen), and the mail is sent.

What I've done here is give you the ability to contact me via email. However, what I've also done is give you a dynamically allocated email address. If at some point I see that this email of mine has been abused (such as given to people who are spamming me), I can simply change email addresses on my .tel.

What happens then? Well, you can still email me in the same way. Nothing's changed for you. However, the spammer now has an email address that doesn't work any more. If he goes to my .tel to find my new email, he can't because it's private.

So .tel is indeed the system that enables me to share my email address with you and ultimately control the propagation of my email addresses. I can't control who and what services you share it with, but I can stop the sharing when I want. And those who have the power to stop something control it.

Mr Zuckerberg, it may be time for you to sell .tel domains to Facebook users concerned about real privacy.

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