Facebook’s World of Identity Versus Google’s Anonymous Algorithm

The upside of all the data that can be collected about us on the social web today is that we can increasingly get better and more relevant information faster.

But there’s a dark side that Brian Stelter reported on this week in The New York Times – all that data can leave us exposed.

There’s no question that the benefits of a connected world are immense; but, after reading Brian’s probing piece and taking a big gulp, I recognize that it also means we’ll see more abuse.

The new information exchanges, marketplaces, and networks we are building online have huge power because they connect so many disparate people and things together.  That’s the appeal; and it’s also the genesis of the inherent potential for misuse.

In previous Web generations, newsgroups, eBay, and Craigslist offered people extraordinary new dimensions of information, commerce, and connection.  And we saw a small – but harmful – percentage of misuse.

And yet, the bigger surprise to me isn’t that these exchanges can be exploited, but that they work at all.  Whether they’re propelled by financial or ego-centric motives, the nefarious exploiters seem to be outnumbered twenty-to-one or more, and the exchanges largely work in spite of them.

Lately, I have been thinking and writing a good deal about the divergent approaches that Facebook and Google have been taking when it comes to the Web.

It’s clear that Facebook is a world filled with identity – and with a vast network where every node is identified comes unprecedented personal risk.  Do I really want my friends, my enemies, my government, and worse, my mother, to connect all the dots of my existence?

No, most assuredly not.

And yet having my identity established online offers enough payoffs that I permit it.

Increasingly, Facebook has been pushing for the benefits of an identified and networked world; at the same time, Google has established itself as the king of the anonymous Web.  The result is that Facebook finds itself in one privacy imbroglio after another; and I’m sure more are on the way.

But while Google scans the pages of the Web without any sense of human identity, its former CEO rues that they have missed out on the benefits of the social Web as a result.

We’re definitely walking a fine digital line here.

But my money is on an increasingly social Web; and we’ll clearly have to address the downsides as we tip-toe – or barrel – into the future.