Paranoia doesn’t mean Facebook isn’t really out to get you

While exploring my Timeline to make sure there was nothing I needed to remove before it went live (there wasn’t, and I’m still not sure why I ever thought there might be), I came across the following:

Facebook’s determination that the posts in question were related to my birthday surprised me for three reasons. Let’s consider each in turn.

For one, the actual content of the posts is entirely unrelated to my birthday.

This has an easy explanation. Consider the Newsfeed formula ‘[x] friends wrote on [y]‘s wall for his/her/their* birthday.’ Now consider the ways Facebook could have gone about programming this. Maybe it scans for ‘Happy Birthday’ – but that could be confusing because people don’t always spell correctly. Perhaps it looks for exclamation points – but not everyone is a fan. Coming up with a reliable method must have taken some serious thought on the part of Mark Zuckerberg.

*Facebook’s willingness to resort to ‘their’ has always irked me. Irked!

All a waste of time. Consider this actual screenshot from my timeline:

It’s well over a year old, so my memory might be hazy, but I believe I am responsible for that second ‘Like’.*

Whether that’s true or not, the post I ‘Liked’* points toward a lazy solution. Obviously, Facebook didn’t come up with any sort of clever algorithm to sort out birthday posts. Instead, it went with the lowest common denominator: a post on someone’s wall on his or her birthday must be related to the day’s event.** Done. Of course, all this is not to mention that grouping me with six ‘other’ friends indicates Facebook doesn’t even know whose Timeline this is.

*Incorrect. Research indicates the person who wrote it liked their*** own post. Research is amazing
**I have no idea how the algorithm deals with time zones/datelines. I propose further research

***I know

So the fact that the so-tagged ‘birthday’ posts concerned snowboarding and the Mighty Ducks has a perfectly reasonable explanation (aside from a perfectly awesome-themed birthday party).

On to reason number two for my surprise: my birthday is not in January. Never has been.

This one also has an easy explanation. Facebook forces you to give it a birthday so it can verify users are at least 13 (and because its raison d’être is to collect voluntarily-supplied demographic information). At one point, I entered my actual birthday, but after my account was hacked (slash left open on people’s computers once too often), I changed a lot of personal information. Facebook now thinks I share a birthday with a certain Aunt:

Alright, that explains why Facebook pointed to January. We’re on a roll.

But we have yet to explain reason three for my surprise: why Facebook pointed to anything at all. As you can see in the screenshot two lines up – or perhaps have seen before – I specifically requested Facebook not ‘show my birthday on my Timeline’. Sounds pretty clear-cut to me.

For this, I can offer only one explanation: Facebook really can’t keep a secret.*

*For further evidence, see here

No, it’s not rational to hide my birthday, and it’s certainly not rational to hide my fake birthday. But if Facebook offers the option to hide certain information, especially when supplying said information is ostensibly involuntary, it should actually hide that information and not make it obliquely accessible to anyone who can explore your Timeline – even if it does turn out you’re the only one doing it (another Timeline joke lol).


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