Has Facebook 'Gone Rogue'?

Facebook's booming growth and shifting approach to privacy have prompted Wired staff writer Ryan Singel to declare "Facebook's gone rogue." Singel tells host Guy Raz why he thinks the networking site is not doing enough to safeguard user privacy.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Ryan Singel is a staff writer for Wired. He's written a piece criticizing Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, that's become a sort of call to arms for the anti-Facebook crowd. Ryan Singel's in San Francisco.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. RYAN SINGEL (Staff Writer, Wired): Thanks for having me on.

RAZ: You write, and I'm quoting here: "Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg's dreams of world domination." Is that a little extreme?

Mr. SINGEL: It's a little over the top. But the point is, is that most people joined Facebook thinking it was just a place to share photos with their friends and family. Facebook thinks it's something very different. Facebook wants to be the place where everyone defines themselves online.

RAZ: Explain what Facebook has done that has upset you and so many privacy advocates around the Internet.

Mr. SINGEL: Starting in December, Facebook decided that there were certain categories of your personal information that it was going to consider publicly available information. That includes your name, your photo, your list of friends and the causes or companies that you like online.

You can still hide some of that stuff in your profile when people come to visit. You can set up different rules for your friends versus your family, versus your boss. But that information is out there, and it can be mined, and it's - that's the information that's getting pushed to advertisers.

RAZ: But they would argue that this allows for a more personalized experience when a user goes online, right?

Mr. SINGEL: In fact, they do believe that. Tim Sparapani, Facebook's director of public policy, called this an extraordinary gift to the public, the fact that when you can go to websites like CNN, for instance, you can see down below your friends and the stories they've read and the things they've liked.

And for many people, they might like that. It's not bad. A personalized Internet isn't a horrible thing. The problem is, is that they're the ones that own all of this data and they get to make these decisions unilaterally.

RAZ: So basically, Facebook - advertisers on Facebook know that, roughly know, my age and my interests?

Mr. SINGEL: Facebook advertisers don't actually know much about you. So it sort of works the other way, that Facebook knows all this about you, and the advertisers say: Hey, we really are interested in women aged 30 to 35 that live in West Virginia and like cats.

RAZ: And Facebook sell that information to them?

Mr. SINGEL: They don't give the advertisers your name. They just let advertisers, you know, target you.

RAZ: So how then is Facebook really violating the privacy of its users?

Mr. SINGEL: What's recently made people upset really isn't the targeted ads. It was about Facebook deciding unilaterally to take your profile information and send it off to third parties.

They also just generally feel like Facebook has been pushing so incessantly to make more information public, and the defaults have changed so much.

RAZ: You're worried that they have too much power.

Mr. SINGEL: Exactly. Mark Zuckerberg's ambitions aren't about making money. He really wants to change the way the Internet works, and he wants Facebook to be the place where everyone defines themselves. It's an amazing vision, and he's brought some great things to the Internet, but that vision worries me deeply.

RAZ: That's Ryan Singel. He's a staff writer for Wired. He joined me from KQED in San Francisco.

Ryan Singel, thank you so much.

Mr. SINGEL: Thanks for having me on, Guy.

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