It almost seems as though every new day brings a new story about Facebook somehow undressing our right to privacy and giving it a good rogering right in front of our parents.
Sure, there are some other companies out there that have had bad times with privacy. Recently I wrote about Nintendo, Google, NASA, Fox Broadcasting Corp, Citigroup and Sony all being hacked within a couple of months of each other. They each had customer data seriously compromised by faceless baddies who were probably zitty teenagers that drank Red Bull and masturbated way too much in front of their computer monitors.
However, Facebook is special – and almost unique – in that it is openly trying to make its users unintentionally share as much information about themselves as they possibly can. You could say it’s hacking its own users. And while Facebook trots out the same tired lines about how sharing enhances the online social experience, and that anyone using Facebook can manage their privacy setting themselves, the whole thing is clearly starting to piss people off. Have you ever tried to adjust the privacy settings in Facebook so that only certain info can be made available to certain people at certain times? You’d have more success getting behind the wheel of a jumbo jet and randomly stabbing at buttons until the engines started and you took off for Lithgow International Airport.
So why then would Facebook potentially upset its 800 million users? The simple answer is that it can only make money through advertising. Facebook is a free service, advertising isn’t effective unless it’s targeted, and for targeting to work you need to know as much about people as possible and those people have to be okay with you sharing that information with advertisers. Of course most people are not okay with this, so Facebook has to walk the fine line of not giving its users the shits while keeping its actual paying customers, the advertisers, happy. If this means that Facebook periodically oversteps the privacy line and earns the ire of the media and its users then that’s okay. The advertisers are as much a reason why Facebook is worth billions as the users. Facebook send a strong message that if people don’t like it they’re welcome to use another social network. MySpace anyone?
I did say that Facebook are almost unique with their slippery approach to protecting your personal information from others. Apple was recently outed for GPS mapping and recording everywhere its iPhone owners travelled. They didn’t appear to be using the information… but they could get to it if they wanted. If the government was secretly tracking us and we found out, there’d be riots in the streets, and civil libertarians would spontaneously combust with outrage. However, Apple said “Oops, sorry dudes”, disabled the feature, then started talking about an upcoming new iPhone model and everyone forgot about it.
A more sombre sign-off this month – I’ve had more than a few cracks at Apple over the years, and there’ll be plenty more to come. However, it was with genuine sadness that I read of Steve Jobs’ passing. The guy was a genius, and perhaps one of the greatest innovators of the modern era.