A while back, a friend of mine invited me to come to Facebook, a social networking site online. For some reason, their content required that I sign up to see it. One of the first red flags was that it required a valid date of birth. I canceled out and took a look at their user agreement. I was appalled. Unlike most user agreements, this one was entirely in their interest.
The agreement states you are required to give personal information and keep it accurate and that all content you provide is theirs. Theres a lot of information on 3rd parties that is anything but transparent. Note things like:
“We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship.” In other words, they will share your information to make money and market to you, including by age and gender.
The service is notoriously insecure and in the past 10’s of thousands of profiles have been downloaded by outsiders. A News Feed service added automatically takes snippets of your information, even set to private, and distributes it publicly. Basically, the service is designed not as a social networking site but as an information gathering service which uses social networking as the carrot.
And now, as they say, the other shoe has dropped. They have introduced Facebook Ads. First, the SocialAds aspect allows users to share ad content they find interesting. Second, advertizers can create profiles like individuals and obviously thus share ads socially via friends. And the winner is, Facebook will provide advertisers with information about your use of the service. Combine that will all the demographic info you’ve given them and they know who you are and what you’re doing there.
Facebook Insights is the service that will give access to data about usage, demographics, ad performance and trends on their pages. It won’t directly offer individual identifying info, they say. But how hard would that be to figure out in such an interlinked service? Unlike the decentralized Internet, Facebook behaves as a semi-closed system.
But the new Facebook Beacon lets users share what they’ve been doing on other participating sites like eBay and Travelocity. So that adds parts of the net into the equation.
There was already 100,000 business profiles at the launch of the service. They set them up with games and activities, then set it up so users can tell their friends what they did there, thus drawing in others.
They have 50 million active users, up from 12 mill in January. 250,000 more every day and over half come to the site daily. Microsoft has bought a hunk of Facebook.
On the bright side, marketers have little control over where their ads appear, perhaps alongside some vulgar content, so some are reticent. MySpace exists as a much more user oriented service and does not claim ownership of content. And Google launched OpenSocial, an application thats designed to run with multiple social networks, including MySpace (eventually).
As with any public site, don’t put anything there you wouldn’t want everyone to know (even in so called private areas). And post only low-res copies of your work, watermarked ideally.
From my side, I’m staying out of predatory services. Interconnected networks are great- I get some traffic here from the WordPress community, for example. And some of the discussion groups are excellent. But some service are best left alone.