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Facebook meets the "Unlike" button

The site that functions as one big popularity contest looks a little unpopular today. After a series of changes that eroded its users' privacy, Facebook has been getting smacked around in public.

Thumbnail image for facebook_logo.jpg

A Wired blog post declared the widely-used social network "Gone Rogue." A team of programmers looking to develop an open alternative to Facebook quickly raised tens of thousands of dollars from strangers. A series of bold-face names in technology have canceled their Facebook accounts.

I am neither terribly surprised about this nor too sympathetic for Facebook. The Palo Alto, Calif., company has earned this scorn.

First, consider the changes it's imposed on its users. One turns many parts of your personal profile--your city, employer, hobbies and so on--into public links unless you remove that information. Another change can expose your endorsements of links at various sites, this one included, with a click of Facebook's increasingly-ubiquitous "Like" button. (Note that my first posts on these changes failed to capture their privacy implications.) A third, "Instant Personalization," shares some of your data, without your advance permission, with other sites.

Second, Facebook's ever-changing privacy-settings interface has made it difficult to monitor and control these changes. The company has an obnoxious habit of revising this miserably-complex system in ways that make earlier instructions inoperative and sometimes reverse prior settings of users. Without clear, concrete examples of who can see what you post, it's no surprise that some people wind up oversharing with the entire Internet.

Third, Facebook has done these things before. An alarming Flash animation illustrates how its default settings have steadily chipped away at a user's privacy over the past few years.

(You've memorized these disclaimers by now, right? Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook's board of directors; former Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly is a friend from college; and many Post staffers, this one included, market themselves on Facebook.)

It's possible that Facebook's 400-million-plus users will settle down and accept these shifts as they've done before.

But Facebook has a fourth problem: It looks arrogant.

Maybe that's only perception. It can't help Facebook's cause that its most public face, 26-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg, can't seem to bother to put on a collared shirt, let alone a jacket or tie, before blathering on about how our notions of privacy are, like, changing.

But when I've talked to Facebook executives about the complaints I've heard from users, I've gotten airy defenses of the company's need to keep innovating. Sometimes they're followed up by vague allowances that it could explain these changes better--the dot-com equivalent of a politician's weasel-worded "if I have offended anybody" non-apology. And then they go on to tout heart-warming stories about how Facebook has helped adoptive parents find a child.

Meanwhile, from what I can tell the leadership at Facebook sincerely believes that the company can and should become the Web's dominant source of identity and authentication, providing a feature left out of the Internet's original design. But they don't seem to accept the thought that becoming such a social utility might require changes in their behavior.

Don't get me wrong: I like Facebook as a service, one that often works better than individual e-mails at keeping me in touch with friends. When I finish writing this post, I will probably click over to the site to see what's new with them. But I'll also hope that my friends now realize they should be as calculating in their use of Facebook as Facebook seems to be in its manipulation of their privacy.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 17, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Privacy , Social media  | Tags: Facebook, Like button, privacy  
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Next: PostPoints tip: Facebook is only for friends


I will be delighted to jump ship instantly once a better alternative is available, and take my 230 friends with me.
the arrogant and dismissive attitude of FB dorks is a hoot. eager to see them take a fall.
they make evil-doer MSFT folks and even the berserk Apple acolytes seem reasonable.
screw FB. what's next? I'm game.

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 17, 2010 7:10 AM | Report abuse

Facebook is an example of the Palin syndrome, Make up something spectacular and pretend you did it or just make some moronic comments and swoon in your momentary popularity. Like all fads and constipation, this to will painfully pass.

Posted by: anOPINIONATEDsob | May 17, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Remember, log out of Facebook every time when you are done; if you simply close the tab, Facebook considers you to be still logged in and will keep collecting data from your browsing activity on "partner sites" and spreading it to other sites.

Facebook is very handy and has helped me to connect with old friends, but it seems that the kids running it don't know that some of us do care about our privacy.

Posted by: wp05122010 | May 17, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Another thing that Facebook seems to callously and perilously disregard is that a significant proportion of their subscribers are minors. That alone behooves them to be extra cautious about privacy issues, but no, their attitude is totally cavalier.

Posted by: aardman | May 17, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

I've been off facebook for about 7 months and it has been an extremely positive change. I now have more time, my relationship has improved, I don't have annoying "friends" sending me cocktails, and most importantly I don't have to deal with internet creepers or companies using my personal information. I'm done with facebook for good!

Posted by: dalaicoop | May 17, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

"Remember, log out of Facebook every time when you are done; if you simply close the tab, Facebook considers you to be still logged in and will keep collecting data from your browsing activity on 'partner sites' and spreading it to other sites."

That is important advice worth repeating. There are definitely shenanigans going on between Facebook and several 'partner sites': Facebook silently installed apps for three sites that I regularly visit. I NEVER used "Facebook Connect" or the "like" button on those sites, I merely visited them while logged on to Facebook. And, without any warning, a Facebook app named after that site appeared in my Facebook profile.

Given that Facebook apps have near-complete access to your profile (and to those of your friends, unless your friends have figured out the right privacy settings to block app access), that means that Facebook essentially gave up my full identity, profile, and social graph to these 'partner sites'. This is a MAJOR breach of trust.

Posted by: kcx7 | May 17, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

These days, I use LinkedIn for any kind of networking online. My friends all know what my interests are and where I live; FB gets my name but I've deleted all other information/faked other information.

Posted by: dkp01 | May 17, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Don't deactivate..DELETE your FB account.

1. Login to FB.
2. Go to the following URL.

Posted by: TheRealityCheck | May 17, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Collectively, we seem to rush into a new tech, a new fad, a new idle distraction from boredom. Then we scream bloody murder when it turns out someone is manipulating us for their profit when experience tells us that's always the way.
Too many people complain about government having too much info on us and then give it away to corporations.
If you don't put it all out there, they can't gather it all up.

Posted by: 18k_ | May 17, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

What irks me the most is that I have been trying for almost three years to contact anyone in authority at any of the "big boys" to show them how to create a secure social world, but I get nowhere. I sent some info to Microsoft and they are gradually rolling out my concept a bit at a time, but not giving me any credit for it.

Posted by: panamacanuck | May 17, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

It's only a matter of time before FB gets hit with the stories about how kids are messed with because the kids and parents couldn't navigate the ridiculously complex 'opt out' rules of FB, and someone took advantage of that ignorance and kidnapped or assaulted the kid.

Then it'll be interesting to see how FB spins that debacle, both in public and in the inevitable lawsuits to follow.

Having sat on juries, I can tell you a lot of people would be sympathetic on this one. All you would have to do is guide them through the ridiculous opt out labyrinth, then play a couple of videos of arrogant FB officials...

Posted by: Hillman1 | May 17, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

It is easy to be fooled with words. It
may take many lifetimes to find out what
is real! Is the world round or flat? A
few hundred years ago, how you answered
could mean you were burned at the stake!

Posted by: theroyprocess | May 17, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

The only reason I don't cancel my account on Facebook, after witnessing the arrogance of Zuckerberg, is that fact that I have made connections with friends who don't seem to be active on the web in other ways. I'm constantly going to my privacy settings and killing off encroachments to my privacy they keep adding. It's like a nightmarish game of whack-a-mole.

I sure hope an alternative to Facebook emerges, and there's a mass migration away from these arrogant abusers of users' trust.

Posted by: leicaman | May 17, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I have always been "calculating" about what I put on the Internet, not just FB. Because once you put your info on the Internet, it has a way of sticking around.

The first site I ever developed in the mid-90's isn't even around anymore - the company was bought out by someone about 5 years ago. But you can find references to it - along with my name - in many places because it was a resource in that particular professional community.

Posts I made asking for help on an early forum for a programming language are also still around. Initially, the boards were private and unsearchable, but that was in the day of hierarchy/library based search engines. Once Google started spidering everything, everything was fair game.

So my privacy settings are very strict on FB, and I don't reveal anything personal. Wrong birthday (since I was forced to put one in), wrong location, and I skipped everything else. It notes I'm linked to my husband, but that's about it.

Ultimately, you are in control of your privacy - you don't have to say anything on the Internet you don't want people to know.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | May 17, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Only the paranoid survive with their privacy somewhat intact online. I lol when I saw young male family members and their friends on Facebook -- all, with no less than 350 "friends."
Who would hang it all out there unquestioningly for all the world to see?
There is shockingly little critical thinking about cyberspace and the way we use it. Just ask the parents of teenage girls who send 300 text messages per day on average. To say nothing of the phone bills that follow.
Still, there is hope. One of the best tutorials on Facebook privacy is a YouTube clip by a tweenager named Hailey. She of the site, though I hestitate to visit her website because she is obviously a minor. If Hailey can noodle out the bigger privacy picture and secure her FB profile accordingly, it should be remedial simple for most people older than that sharp and charming tween.
This cybercynic awaits some opensource alternatives to Facebook.
Cybercynic in Silicon Valley

Posted by: SobriQuet1 | May 17, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I'm gone as well. It was becoming too aggravating to keep up with the constant changes and privacy policy updates/settings. For me the last straw was seeing my Facebook profile picture show up on other websites that Facebook decided to share my information with. I also was not happy with the "make public" or delete option with respect to the profile information. Anyone else find it somewhat ironic that you can "like" this article on Facebook? Huge opening for another website that can win people's trust. I did enjoying keeping easy track of friends and sharing photos.

Posted by: behemoth98 | May 17, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

We haven't had any issues with FB, but we never joined. What was the point? If you think that you need to be on FB to validate your existence, then be prepared for the consequences.

Posted by: xraywp | May 17, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Zuckerberg can sit on my Facebook....and rotate.

Posted by: angelos_peter | May 17, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

"26-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg, can't seem to bother to put on a collared shirt, let alone a jacket or tie, before"

...*sigh* old people... It's all about the clothes.

Posted by: Crucialitis | May 17, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

What will be most interesting for some of us will be the next few months as devoted development teams get serious about taking down Facebook.

From a marketing standpoint, it should be even more interesting. Will a new social networking app arise that allows me to grab my Facebook info and take it with me? Will it send out notes to all my Facebook contacts and give them a one-click service to port their own info and post histories to the new service with a "delete Facebook upon receipt" option? I sure hope so!

Nobody's perfect, but Facebook has grown from a cute and cuddly little toy into a raging, ranting, "I know more than you'll ever know" adolescent demon in just a few short years. Kind of like Zuckerberg himself.

Posted by: theMemberShip | May 17, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Those of you who have a Facebook account have engaged in a Faustian bargain.

In exchange for your soul you have been given "popularity" you never had before. Of course, it is more than you ever expected or wanted. Now you have NO privacy.

Old Scratch knows what he's doing.

Posted by: TheBabu | May 17, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

they need to tell its users of all and any new or changed privacy settings.

also they need to have their site more user friendly to the major browsers out there, "opera, firefox and IE" i cant leave a video greeting on my friends wall, my wall, or when i send a private message , i cant leave a video message either, but it will let me record a video in "my videos" ,

plus when i no longer play this game oh lets say "farm ville App game" , that game still keeps my info even after i deleted the app, even if i block it from my page.

also , if you delete your account , close your facebook account, its not completely deleted.

sooooo before you cancle your facebook account , i suggest that you first clean up your page.
delete all photos.
delete all friends.
change your info on your personal profile.
including your name.
change your email log in, to a email thats not important at all.

clean your wall completely

then leave a comment telling every one that "this account is now closed" .

yes this all sounds stupid, but i had to do this before a year ago on some other site.

Posted by: foxylady9802003 | May 17, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

In exchange for your soul you have been given "popularity" you never had before.

um, you're joking right? I was much more popular in college than I am on facebook.

Posted by: bbcrock | May 17, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

For those of you discussing how you need to self-validate on Facebook, not all of us joined for that reason.

Many of my friends primarily communicate through FB. I didn't join because I didn't see the need. And then I moved across the country, and when I came back for a visit I found out a friend of mine had just given birth to triplets. I didn't even know she'd been pregnant, since I wasn't on FB, and that's where she was sharing her news.

So I'm on there, with under 50 friends - they are all actually friends and family. My status updates are all silly, nothing personal, and I don't play any games and have actively blocked most applications.

I still send my friends e-mails or cards and try talking to them on the phone (if they pick up), but mostly, they all spread their news through FB. So I'm on there to keep up with them, not because I want to join X page so someone will name their child Moon Unit Zappa (or whatever the latest thing is going around).

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | May 17, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Wow.. is awesome. The pages don't stop scrolling.. its like a bottomless pit of bits of random peoples' lives.

Posted by: john65001 | May 17, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

There is a need for social networking in todays world. Just not a need for Facebook. This new Diaspora coming out this fall looks like the real deal.

Posted by: MrWillie | May 17, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

What an appropriate name for a CEO of an internet company that wants to take its uncritical, naively trusting subscribers to that place where people get willingly victimized: suckersburg.

Posted by: aardman | May 17, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: featheredge99 | May 17, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

OOps. Sorry. One of my links is redundant.

Posted by: featheredge99 | May 17, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Here's a thought, if you are that super worried about your information, why would you even put it on a web site to begin with? If you don't feel comfortable with putting your info into a FREE social networking site, then don't do it. Don't sit there and debate back and forth whether or not facebook is wrong or arrogant. Let's talk about something real please.

Posted by: BMACattack | May 17, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

OK. So as of this posting, there are 30 other messages here. Only one or two of them is pro-Facebook.

I'm sure that the Washington Post readership is not representative of Facebook users, but still, less than ten percent of the posters have anything good to say about Facebook, and that does not bode well for them.

Posted by: HippopotamusMan | May 17, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

To be clear, when I wrote "... and that does not bode well for them", I mean that this doesn't bode well for _Facebook_.

Posted by: HippopotamusMan | May 17, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

I don't fret too much about this because I think that Facebook will either adapt or die. Myspace made strategic decision errors and left the door open for FB. Either FB will adapt or another alternative will come along.

The main reason I like FB is for the free games that incorporate your friends who also play. Zynga and Playfish have surpassed EA in gaming revenues, and rely on FB as their main platform. Either they will pressure FB to adapt, or they will find another venue to ply their games.

The biggest problem I have with FB is their "opt out" policy, where they change your privacy options and then give you the option to opt out of the changes. However, they know that most users won't know to do this, and they make the interface and wording so confusing that many users make choices contrary to what they want. This is a bad business practice that will come back to bite them in the butt if they don't change.

Posted by: AxelDC | May 17, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm starting to envision a "new facebook" that isn't even a "site." It would be an app. Similar to instant messaging, a peer-to-peer program that posts each friend's msg and photos to your own interface.

One thing that annoyed me about Facebook is how they prompt so many naive people into uploading their address books in toto. I would never give my friends' email addresses to a corporation. A few of my friends did so out of naivety. I refused. Still, I consider it that they were 'Phished.' The dangers of that are subtle but, I think, real.

Posted by: Jumper1 | May 17, 2010 8:33 PM | Report abuse

I use the word "facebook" as a key word for my spam filter now. I do not need to see the pesky reminders from folks that uploaded their address books dunning me to join.

Posted by: tbva | May 17, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Another similar viewpoint from a competing well-known national newspaper:

As aardman mentions, not only is a signficant portion minors, but LESS THAN 13, a purported criterion for opening a FB account.

Too bad they are privately held, or we could watch the roller-coaster ride of their stock price. If they were a public corporation, then an appropriately experienced board of directors might put a leash on some of their more problematical practices, privacy and otherwise.

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | May 17, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

Calm down already! There are many other social networking sites available right now! Facebook is just the most popular. I was able to reconnect with a ton of old friends,co-workers and classmates through Facebook without paying for yearly subscriptions to sites that promise to do so but never delivered. After I make contact with people I want to, I asked them to contact me using other means of communication, if possible. I rarely visit the site unless I get an email alert that some old buddy wants to connect with me or if I want to kill some time playing poker.I beleive its a super useful site and just another means of communication. Yet, I have notice some of my web surfing shows up there, but I don't mind people seeing the great information I read by people like Rob Pegoraro and most of the comments after the articles. FYI, I won't ever give Facebook my bank account number though...It might show up in "updates."

Posted by: amurphy981 | May 17, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

folk whining about fb privacy controls are confused about what fb is, its a vertical marketing instrument and its designed to sell your info

i dont put anything personal on fb, my bday, forget it, i put jan 1 because its easy to remember -

as for posts i dont put any personal business there, nothing i dont want the world to see/know, i use it for promotion and social commentary and keeping up w/folk,

its an instrument for me and a valuable one long as i understand its role and that whatever i put on there, no matter the privacy control, will eventually be public, will eventually be sold

im using them they using me, we will see who tricking who

Posted by: arthurflowers | May 18, 2010 3:41 AM | Report abuse

The damage is done and information Facebook said would be confidential isn't. They lied. Some of our young "brilliant minds" simply are not mature enough to have a social conscience and, even when they start companies with the best intentions, they are corrupted by money. It's time for Corporate America and businesses all over the world to develop a social conscience. I hope there is a class action suit that strips ALL of Facebook's profits since they changed the "rules" and that people simply close their Facebook accounts and go back to snail mail and telephone calls, which are better regulated for our privacy.

Posted by: njglea | May 18, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

They don't get there's a problem. There is one with their opt-out unilateral decision making though. They keep creating situations for people that they neither want, nor expect. The only people who find it good are similarly minded opt-out zealots who just don't get it.

Policy based computing is not impossible, and they could do a far better job with how they implement it too. They intentionally make things difficult to reprivatize after their unasked for TOS changes. This is a serious risk for people in some cases.

There's already been one murder that facebook's recent changes had a hand in, how many more do we need?

Facebook is losing the most valuable commodity they have, user trust.

I stopped using my real name on the Post's site because of the real world dangers I was encountering from things I said in comments. When I did it, it took time but things got better. I don't like the idea of Facebook exposing me to risks inadvertently.

I block communication with facebook from outside it's site, and from it's site to what other site's I can. I keep having to tweak things to try to let through ads for sites I want to support.

I'm not in a position where it would make the slightest bit of sense to quit FB if I can avoid it. I need it for a lot of good reasons right now. However I really wish that in fulfilling a social need, I didn't have to trade my privacy for it.

Posted by: Nymous | May 18, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

You live in DC, you tell us how dangerous some of this could be to people. We have wars and player haters aplenty last time I checked. What is FB unilaterally deciding to do to people that they shouldn't?

I don't think some of the answers are very good at all. In fact, grim things could result.

Posted by: Nymous | May 18, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I distrust Facebook's intentions, and this anxiety stems from their short track record of manipulating their users.

Posted by: michaelhuber | May 18, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Unlike?! Dont you mean "dislike", Rob? Unlike is a word for comparing things ("This ice cream is unlike anything I've ever had before!"). Dislike is the correct word to be used here. Where are the editors of the Post!?

As to post itself: Agreed. FB seems very shady. I plan on deleting my account, or at least changing my info. I really hope an open source and secure alternative appears in the near future. I don't like that CEO guy at all.

Posted by: mily219 | May 18, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I will leave Facebook the minute a viable alternative presents itself.

These people seem to have forgotten how easy it is to go the way of Myspace or AOL.

There entire business model is based on the trust of the user. If the user no longer trusts them, they no longer have a product to sell.

Posted by: mortonjr77 | May 18, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Facebook is the ultimate "newbie" application. Five years ago, you could tell an internet newbie by the hoax emails they sent around about not flashing your headlights or how your cell phone could fry popcorn. Now it's how many chickens you need to corral on your virtual farm. What a moronic joke. Facebook users are a group of cattle, chewing their cud as they read about their friend's bowel movements over a cup of coffee. Why don't you losers all just get a life?

Posted by: jerkhoff | May 18, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I loathe Facebook and only have it because I need to document my experience with "social networking sites" and most employers aren't tech savvy enough to know about Livejournal et al that preceded Facebook.

Zuckerberg claims to be using a "reasonable man" standard for privacy, but a friend of mine whose handle is "Doctor Science" has suggested we need to go with the "reasonable teenaged girl" standard of privacy. Too many people are oblivious or uninformed. We need the presumption to be that more privacy is better, not that more interaction is.

Posted by: Fabrisse | May 18, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

The article is great. It really exposes all the horrible privacy flaws in Facebook. Nonetheless, off to he right hand side I see the Facebook Network News applet. Right here. With postings from MY FRIENDS on Facebook. How do you know who my friends are unless you have scanned my computer for cookie and used it to identify me.

Just a wee invasion of privacy, if I do say so myself.

It does make one wonder if the WP - who is now obviously in bed with Facebook, is also sharing your reading habits with Facebook. So now, every article I've read can end up on some wide open Facebook page for the world to see.

And then what other cookies did you scan on my computer? I guess it's all covered under the Privacy Policy section on aggregate data collection. But boy does this feel like an invasion of privacy.

If you want to force your readers to buy a paper copy of the paper...great job WP.

Posted by: 20yrskinfan | May 18, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Federal energy chief(Salazar) admits in front of Congress today that there were lapses in coverage of off shore drilling rigs. If Obama's man had done his job there would be no spill in the gulf. The Obama administration is a disaster.

Posted by: farmsnorton | May 18, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

You people that use facebook must truly have a screw loose somewhere. we don't care about you and your 500+ friends. Talk about lonely people.

we don't want to see your baby, vacation, school,date, dinner, work, family or other pictures, or give a hoot about what you are doing, thinking or twittering.

keep it to yourself, please!

Posted by: wesatch | May 18, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

Hot summer day is about to,Open the wardrobe is not yet found love after
another the right clothes? So, also waiting for? Immediate action bar!
Welcome to { } sure you will find what you need.
Moreover, the company has a good reputation, product quality standards,
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friends for their support. Therefore, please rest assured purchase.

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Posted by: itkonlyyou67 | May 18, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

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another the right clothes? So, also waiting for? Immediate action bar!
Welcome to { } sure you will find what you need.
Moreover, the company has a good reputation, product quality standards,
at reasonable prices. Over the years, has been well received by overseas
friends for their support. Therefore, please rest assured purchase.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!
` ╰—┘ 。 ┅★`_、
│           │  
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Posted by: itkonlyyou67 | May 18, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

A recent Harvard graduate’s thoughts on facebook privacy concerns and how the tell-all generation (people currently between 18 and 29-years-old) is learning discretion:

Posted by: SteveRDuque | May 19, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

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