22 May 2010

Some off topic notes about Facebook

@greenbes: You're not Facebook's customer. You're the product they sell to their real customers - advertisers. Forget this at your peril.
So wrote Steve Greenberg on Twitter yesterday, and I have to say it's one of the better Tweets I've ever read.

It landed in the fertile field of my attention because moments earlier, I had been shaking my head over the idiocy of yet another petition on Facebook someone had sent me. This time, the petition was "No, I will not start to pay for Facebook!"

Facebook has no intentions to charge its users a dime for the very reason @greenbes pointed out. Facebook's users are their product, and as of the last count, there are 400 million of them worldwide.

Facebook got its start in 2003 when a sophomore at Havard named Mark Zuckerburg started a web site he called Facesmash. Facesmash was an underground thing, and Zuckerburg got into all kinds of trouble for hacking into Harvard's computer system to get the photos and names of his fellow students. Facesmash was shut down by Harvard's administration and they charged him with invasion of privacy among other things. Harvard being Harvard, the charges were dropped eventually.

The following semester, Zuckerburg launched a somewhat more reputable site called The Facebook. I say somewhat more respectable because within weeks he was facing another lawsuit from angry Harvardians who accused him of hacking into their e-mail accounts. The Facebook is what became just Facebook in 2004. The rest is history.

All of that information is readily available anywhere on the internet. Clearly, this is not Sergey Brin and Larry Page we're talking about.

A lot of people get all poetic when they talk about Facebook, if I hear it called a global village one more time I'm going to scream. It's not a town square, it doesn't exist to allow you to play Farmville, it's not there so that you can reconnect with people you knew 20 years ago. Sure, it does all of those things, but they are not why Facebook exists. Facebook exists to make money. That's by no means a bad thing, but it is something to keep in mind when you're adjusting your privacy settings.

Put simply, as Facebook's product you're performing two tasks. First, the ads on the right side of your Facebook page are there for you to click. Facebook makes money when you do. The second task you're performing is filling out your profile and leaving it in the open for the world to see. Facebook uses the information it gathers from your profile and your activity to draw a profile of you. It can then place more ads in front of you that you're more likely to click. It can also sell its carefully drawn demographic information to anyone who's willing to pay for it.

The global village is a Potemkin Village after all. (Look it up.)

I see the petitions and moot protests about paying for Facebook and I can't help but think that the folks at Facebook are laughing about the red herrings people grab. Facebook will never charge a user fee, but as their latest grab at your private information shows, that's the last thing in the world to be concerned about when it comes to Facebook.

Through it all, I find Facebook to be useful and helpful. I keep track of my multitudes of nieces and nephews through it. I keep in touch with old friends, fellow bloggers, fellow Twitterers, readers and friends. I syndicate my blog through it and thanks to Facebook, I never have to remember when peoples' birthdays are.

But I take as many measures as I can to keep the profile information I don't want to fall into the wrong hands out of the wrong hands.

My pals at the ACLU put together a quiz that shows you how much of your information goes public every time you take a quiz or use a Facebook app. Take their quiz and I guarantee you you'll never take another quiz.

I dug through the labyrinth of Facebook's new privacy settings a few weeks ago. Just the other day, the great and powerful Nancie Mills-Pipgras had a link on her page to something called Reclaim Privacy. Go to this website and follow their instructions. Reclaim Privacy will audit your Facebook settings and let you know what you're leaving out in the open.

So go use Facebook, and have fun while your there. Just remember what you're dealing with.


  1. I hear that kid Zuckerberg was offered over a billion dollars for Facebook. And he turned it down.

  2. I strongly advocate for frequent facebook users to constantly review their apps and delete anything they have inadvertently added to their profile. Also, become familiar with friend lists and how to use them.

  3. Facebook is a tool. It's also increasingly tricky one. I'd say caveat emptor but there's nothing to buy.

  4. The "Reclaim Privacy Tool" is pretty darn awesome and so easy to use. Thanks.

  5. "The global village is a Potemkin Village after all. (Look it up.)"

    Geez Paul, where do you learn all this stuff??


  6. Ahhh, the curse of having once been an English major. Potemkin Village is usually what I call the "Towne Centre" in planned suburban communities.

  7. Yes, the "Reclaim Privacy Tool" was a great tip. Thanks!


  8. I think everybody on my Friend list made use of that today.

  9. I joined facebook yesterday and used this information to do the initial setup. Thanks!

  10. That's great, I'm glad this was helpful.


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