Takesies Backsies: Facebook Flouts User Privacy…Again

This whole Web 2.0 “revolution” seems to be sticking, so far. A personalized internet experience is what the internet-using masses want. For those of you unfamiliar with what Web 2.0 is (but are likely a part of), Wiki has a nice definition, “Web 2.0 refers to a perceived second generation of web-based communities and hosted services — such as social-networking sites, wikis, and folksonomies — which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration, and sharing between users.” Yea, people love hearing about stuff they care about – so what?

Well, people do care, but typically don’t want to pay a penny for it. I grew in the Napster generation, grabbing entire albums, whole movies, and TV series online for free. The internet was a great place – where anyone and everyone could steal media as often as they wanted.

That said, why would anyone want to pay for a Web 2.0 service, when that service is simply providing something that can be (right now) completely substituted by a normal social life? Of course, budding Web 2.0 companies currently surviving off venture capital funding are asking themselves this same question, and arguably there are only two ways of accruing any capital from the majority of users scared away by fees: beg for it, or advertise.

Facebook, the social-networking site many Terry readers are likely familiar with (and closet addicts to), have introduced a marketing strategy that drops to a sneaky level of dishonesty. But first…

For all of you that were early Facebook adopters, you likely remember the veritable hoopla that followed the introduction of the “mini feed” over a year ago. What this little piece of technology did was notify the user of every single action each and every friend on their friends list performed:

Single, dating, who? Tired, happy, content, why? New photos, where, who else? Indigestion, poor baby!

Basically, what Facebook exec’s had just said to the millions of college students already signed up was, “Uhm, what’s “privacy”?”

Now, the mini feed is an interesting piece of work – its an RSS feed aggregator for “Life” (i.e. it tells what is occurring to those individuals that are the most important to you). Its like having a hundred or so conversations in a matter of days with people whom you potentially haven’t seen in years. And this, of course, is why droves of Facebook users were a tad pissed when Facebook implemented the mini feed without bothering to ask the user whether they wanted to share this information.

Of course, Facebook exec’s rectified this foul-up, and now Facebook users have a greater deal of control over their mini feeds, and what other users’ mini feed’s pick up from their virtual life.

So Facebook is no stranger to throwing their users’ privacy into the wind, and once again they have done just this with the inception of Beacon. According to the company’s About page (must be a user), “Beacon works by allowing affiliate websites to send stories about actions you take to Facebook.”

Here comes the foul-up: once again, without consulting you – the user, and purveyor of all of Facebook’s value (which, ultimately, thrives off knowledge) – is tracking the off-site choices you make when logged into Facebook.

Here’s what your mini feed might look like:

  • Jenny A. is attending Johnny B’s “Kick ass 19th BDay WOO! Yeeeeeaaaaa”
  • Davey C. just joined the group, “Yes, I’ve heard of the “Dave” song, and yes I hate Kids in the Hall”
  • Bradley D. just checked out some pretty choice black-on-black Chuckie’s at Hot Topic, would you like to check them out too?

For the past few weeks, Beacon has been watching your every logged-in movement (well, movements in companies affiliated with Beacon). However, today, after more user uproar, Facebook amended its policy on the use of Beacon such that before Facebook publishes any information collected through Beacon, “…a notification will display in the lower right corner of your screen. If you click “No Thanks”…no stories or information will be published anywhere on Facebook.” [source]

I’ve been involved in a few Web 2.0 related activities, either via blogging, social-networking, or through active participation in “participatory” journalism. Throughout this foray, something was always nagging me – you can’t make a living off venture capital, and the ceiling will eventually collapse down on these wonderful, interactive, and most importantly, free internet experiences we all currently enjoy.

What do you think – will Web 2.0 follow the dot.com 1.0 bust, or will users finally start putting up with the ever-present advertisements currently bombarding us every few seconds in the real world? Would you rather cope with pervasive online ads, or pay a fee to go ad-free? Are social-networking sites here to stay? I’m not a sociologist, and so I would love to hear how a social-Terry-ist might address these issues.

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: davidsemeniuk.com