Why Facebook’s tagging policies suck

What's wrong with the ability to tag other people's photos and videos? Plenty. Too bad Facebook just doesn't get it.

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You wake up to this:

* Your boss, who is also a Facebook friend (because she sent you an invite and it was too awkward to decline), sees you tagged in a photo having a wild time on the same day you were supposedly home sick in bed with a fever of 102. (You didn’t really like that job anyway.)

* Your significant other, who is of course a Facebook friend and follows your news feed assiduously, sees the photo tag and clicks it. Now she’s wondering why she wasn’t invited to the party, and who is that skanky blonde on your arm? (She was too clingy in any case.)

* That friend of a friend you barely knew who showed up with that killer homegrown got busted by the TSA on his way back through customs. Now the Feds are combing through his Facebook account to harvest information about his associates – and whose photo do they see with his lips around a bong? (You were always a big fan of “Prison Break,” and now you get to experience it first hand.)

Of course, Facebook did send an email alerting you that you’d been tagged in a friend’s photo. But you were busy sleeping. Or maybe you get tagged so often that you can’t keep up with these generic alerts. In any case, the onus is on you to erase the evidence before somebody else sees it.

This is why Facebook’s tagging policies suck. They take control over your personal information – and it doesn’t get much more personal than a photo -- and put it in the hands of someone else.

Obviously you shouldn’t lie to your boss, cheat on your girlfriend, drink too much tequila or abuse Schedule 1 narcotics – but it’s not Facebook’s job to rat you out. Naturally, you are too smart and social media savvy to share stuff like this on Facebook. But are your friends also too smart? Are you sure?

The above scenario is a friendly one. Imagine what someone who didn’t like you could do to your reputation using tags, if you weren’t paying close attention.

I thought, this seems like so obvious a flaw that even Facebook would notice. Surely I must be missing something. Somewhere in that Gordian Knot of Facebook privacy controls there must be some way to tell Facebook taggers to piss off.

I contacted Facebook to find out what the real story is about tags and what users can do to opt out. It was less helpful than I’d hoped.

I reached a global communications and public policy manager at Facebook who will remain unnamed. She proceeded to give me inaccurate information about how to opt out of photo tagging, claimed that you can only tag friends and “things or people that you are associated with” (also not true), and said I still fail to “fundamentally understand how tagging or for that matter Facebook works.”

That last one could be true. But she doesn’t seem to be doing much better.

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