We almost all use Facebook now. It is ubiquitous and can be seen in car commercials, banner adds, on your phone, and even in comic books. It has become so ubiquitous that Facebook as unparalleled power over those who use it. They can control whether or not your Facebook Profile is allowed, where your information is being sent or sold to, and can even start influencing you about where you should start shopping. All of this is fine and dandy since I am willingly giving them my information when I create my profile. It is also fine that some people use Facebook for their social calendar par excellence. Whatever you do on your Facebook is your prerogative but what Facebook does should be our concern.
Recently at the f8 conference Mark Zuckerberg announced a new feature with Facebook called “frictionless sharing.” The basic idea is that by going to certain sites and using certain apps and programs, Facebook would be able to share with your friends what you are doing, where, and when. This all happens without you having to manually tell people that you are doing it. This really is nothing new. For a year or two, Facebook has integrated preferred affiliate sharing where certain sites could link with your Facebook account and start sharing what you are doing on their sites with your Facebook friends. The new kicker here is that even if you are logged out of the new Facebook, Facebook can still track what site you are going to though not necessarily share them with your friends. This just seems like a massive invasion of privacy, right?
Wrong. There is this old economist joke, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” When nothing is being sold to you, you are the product being sold. With a combination of ad revenue and information sharing, Facebook makes plenty of money knowing that you are from Timbuktu, MIchigan. So why wouldn’t Facebook want to surveil you more to gain the best chance of selling ads that you are more likely to click and respond to?
Exactly. This is not the first time Facebook has gotten into trouble with its users. Even iOS and Android users share the same problems with apps that require to look at a user’s contacts or be able to scan a user’s text messages or emails. Though this is a problem, most people don’t even realize it is happening and could actually care less as long as they can play Angry Birds and watch Hulu.
So my question is how do we, as developers and designers, produce systems that help mitigate the privacy concern for the users? There is the ability to refuse to sell our users’ information to others but anymore that is almost useless if someone does a bit of datamining. Another way is to offer robust opt-out functions that are easily accessible to the user and clearly labeled what a person is opting in and out of. Past those options, I think we can’t do much of anything anymore. Information is such a commodity that we have sacrificed privacy for immediacy and gratification. I give Facebook my information so I can play Mafia Wars (which I quit years ago) and schedule a party for a friend’s birthday (which Facebook knows I am doing and starts targeting birthday party related ads towards me). Facebook has become the social connector in 2011 like phones did in the 1950’s. The only difference is that back then I wasn’t worried about someone selling my conversation with Bethany to target billboards to us.