Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Facebook Owns My Soul

Guys. Facebook owns my soul. And probably yours, too.

Today, nickd and I had a long conversation about Facebook's wonky privacy policies. I mean, sure. They'll let you untag photos and delete wallposts, so your friends or enemies can't see them. But will they let you delete your account permanently? No. Not without a lot of hassle, at least.

The problem is, I really do hand my soul over to Facebook—at least, the parts of it that can be translated into binary code. Facebook is truly my social "grid"; it's a world where all my friends are a click away. Most personal correspondence I've had in the past year has been through Facebook messages. And it's pretty scary to think that Facebook doesn't want that taken away from them.

It's not just their "privacy policy" that's at issue. It's their policy on what is private—what information belongs to you.

The whole model of Facebook only makes sense if they can monetize the information you give them, whether through targeted advertising or other strategies. But, as nickd pointed out, Facebook is leveling up—their new monetization system won't just use your information; it will use your friends. And it will use you, too, as a conduit of viral marketing, through Facebook's newly-announced shopping network, in which Facebook will track your online purchases and broadcast them to your friends, complete with coupons to seal the deal.

Okay. Scary.

Sure, Google already has most of this information. Google knows who I e-mail, where I go on the Internet, what I buy. But Google isn't telling all my friends. Facebook works as a social utility because it invades your privacy just enough. It's fun to have other people interested in your life, and it's certainly fun to peek into the lives of others. But whenever I'm on Facebook, I'm very aware that I'm on Facebook. It's my social grid, but it doesn't constitute my life grid. Once you start bringing in information from outside the closed representational framework of Facebook, you run into trouble.

And, I think it's safe to say: we're running into trouble.

1 comment:

Elan said...

I don't have a soul for Facebook to own. Even if I did, the simple expedient of not shopping on their network would probably act almost as well as garlic (and is probably a good idea anyway).
I'm pretty sure that they'll let people opt out so at least people who are conscious of privacy can get some. However, they must be betting that not that many people will do so (think of the amusing debacle with the newsfeed - most people who objected didn't change their privacy settings) as otherwise their valuation is more than obscene.
One point to remember is that the advertising space for Google is inherently much larger than that for Facebook. Most people will Google for "cheap socks" they won't put it in their interests. This does limit your exposure to "cool" gadgets.

The personal life of every individual is based on secrecy, and perhaps it is partly for that reason that civilized man is so nervously anxious that personal privacy should be respected.
- Anton Chekhov