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Facebook privacy concerns tend to centre around inadvertent exposure of your content and your activity. New features like the News Feed and Timeline produce a flurry of blog posts, and posting on the site itself – with people complaining about the effect of the new functionality, and seeking ways to turn it off.
These concerns miss the point.
If this was the problem, I’d still have a Facebook account. I understand that I need to manage my privacy settings, and also that once my content (and comments) are out there, I can’t rely on being able to control them. That’s part of the trade-off we all make when we use social media.
I like this article:
but point 1 (I am not the sum of my data) is only half of the story. Increasingly, I am the sum of my online activity. And having an interest in marketing at a technology company, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I see just how much data about people can be provided by Facebook. And if you write an app… wow.
It comes down to data mining.
Let’s say I hand you a photo album full of pictures of strangers and asked you to flick through it. If I tracked how long you spent looking at each photo, where your eyes go, which photos you returned to – and did this with a large number of people, I bet I could start to draw some inferences about your sexual orientation and your personal preferences for physical characteristics.
Let’s say I watch over your shoulder as you’re reading a newspaper at which articles you skim; which you read in depth; which you skip. I bet I could start to draw some inferences about your political sympathies, your general awareness and your intelligence.
Who you hang out with. Which of your friends you really like. Whose comments you jump on and whose you dismiss. Whether you read the news or play a game when you go to the toilet.
No one person knows as much about you as this – not even you. But whenever you’re using Facebook – or increasingly, just using a web browser with Facebook logged in – this data is being collected by one organisation. Imagine the effectiveness of an advert which was targeted at you, and customised for you, taking all of these things into account. Would you want an advertiser to know all of these things about you?
And that’s just people selling stuff. What about political targeting? What about the equivalent of phone hacking?
Think that’s far-fetched? Why do you think Facebook, which doesn’t charge a penny to its users, is worth $100Bn?