Point: New Facebook privacy pratices are deceptive and controlling
By Dylan Martin
While people always bellow and moan over the new interface changes at Facebook.com, that should be the least of their worries. Over the past few years, Facebook has been slowly making efforts to make all user information public so that advertisers can mine the data and make personalized ads. And over that time, the practices have become more deceptive and controlling.
In January, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stated that if he had a chance to start Facebook over, he wouldn’t give people an option to privatize their information. Privacy has been a hot-button topic for Facebook in the past few years, but in recent months, Facebook has made some alarming changes that makes it harder for users to keep their information private. In fact, Facebook is encouraging users to use new features including “Instant Personalization” and “Community Pages” in trade for personal information, sometimes without them ever knowing.
This might be fine for more innocent interests and acitivities like “camping,” but do you want everyone to know that your favorite activities are “smoking weed” and “having sex?” For some, there should be no shame in doing either activity, but the trouble starts when information you publish on Facebook can be seen by all users on the website. Facebook doesn’t make it immediately apparent how you can privatize all of your information, and that’s where the problem lies.
Facebook has a way of automatically signing up all users for these features, only giving them an opportunity to “opt-out” if they realize they have the option to. But even then, there are now some pieces of information you have no control over, including your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and pages. All of that info is made public with no way of hiding it.
Back in 2007, Facebook implemented a service called Beacon which allowed users to post their activity from other websites to their news feeds. The activity information was also used for personalized ads. Like the “Instant Personalization” feature, Beacon was an opt-out only service, misleading some users into sharing too much content with fellow users and advertisers. This led to a class-action lawsuit lead by MoveOn.org, which ultimately caused Facebook to remove the Beacon service in late 2009.
As a corporation, Facebook is entitled to use our information for advertising dollars if we grant it, but if they do it by deceiving us and undermining our freedom to privacy, then something needs to be done. Facebook has proved itself to be the best social networking tool in the world, but at what cost will we continue to use it? Facebook needs to have more transparency in their monetization efforts and tell users the truth about what information is being seen by others. More control on privacy wouldn’t hurt, either.
Counterpoint: Mining of personal info is the price of social networking
By Matt Dodge
Facebook’s recent efforts to standardize and connect user’s profile information are seen by some as an underhanded, deceitful attempt to make more advertising revenue. While the new changes are confusing and perhaps purposefully opaque, it’s important to remember that despite how fully integrated into our everyday lives the website has become, it is ultimately just a money-making venture, and a very successful one at that: Microsoft bought a 1.6% stake for $240 million in October 2008, which would suggest that the company is worth around $15 billion.
But every “like,” wall post, and FarmVille harvest costs the website something. Server space dosn’t come cheap, and while Facebook reported $300 million in revenues in 2008 it also spends tens-of-millions of dollars each year upgrading its server infrastructure, including securing $100 million in 2008 in debt financing to finance leases on more server space, according to BusinessWeek.
With a third of all global internet users visiting the social networking mecca, Facebook is now the second-most visited site on the internet, and the world’s largest photo hosting site, according to tracking service alexa.com. It is perhaps the internet’s best and most comprehensive tool for connecting people, and the most cohesive agent in modern relationships. So how much is all that worth to you?
The generation who relies most on Facebook to track, display, and conduct our interpersonal relationships is known colliqualiy as “Generation Y,” which in this context, could stand for “why should we have to pay for anything?” Coming of age in the era of P2P file-sharing services like Napster, and then torrent search engines like The Pirate Bay, we have lived most of our lives in a happy little bubble where any media we want to consume can be found for free somewhere on the internet with little effort. Given this culture of piracy, it’s easy to understand why the Ys would be so hesitant to have their personal info mined for advertising revenue. But such an attitude shows an general ignorance of internet economics.
Facebook’s new changes are simply a way of better indexing user demographics and interests in a way that helps the site to better target its advertisements and draw more ad revenue. Facebook integrates a myriad of services – the ability to post photos, run a chat client, post event listings, or challenge a friend to a game – all in one place, fulfilling the role of at least half a dozen websites. Given this all-inclusive functionality, one has to make some concessions for the site’s advertising methods.
With its clean, minimalist interface, Facebook only really has a single column along the right side of a browser in which to display ads, whereas other websites are littered with them. Facebook’s ads are also fairly unobstrusive, devoid of the distracting flash animations and well-regulated for spam and fraud. You might be freaked out when the ads start alluding to your professed love for Jagermeister or starts advertising sex toys, but the fact is the service is convenient, helpful, and mutually beneficial to the user, the advertiser, and the platform itself.
We need to recognize that the invaluable service offered by Facebook is worth something to us, and that, while it might seem creepy to some, the site’s advertising model is the most effective way to make money and keep Facebook running, and is as unobtrusive to the user’s experience as possible.