On April 21, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the social networking site’s latest gimmick, one which allows Facebook to engage with a user’s internet activity outside Facebook’s homepage. Websites that have partnered with Facebook can greet visitors with personalized content.
Furthermore, the infamous “like” button associated with Facebook’s various groups and applications has now moved beyond Facebook itself, appearing on comedy websites, blogs and online retail outlets. Facebook’s new features will provide external websites with enormous amounts of personal information about individual preferences and interests—information which Facebook can share freely.
Though Facebook’s vice-president of public policy, Elliot Schrage, has stated that the company doesn’t connect identities to shared information, a computer error—like that experienced by AOL in 2006—could make this information public at any time.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone being upset that they aren’t sharing more of their personal information with retailers.
By the same standard, many groups insist that Facebook’s dissemination of personal information should be an “opt-in” rather than an “opt-out” program. Others have criticized Facebook’s resetting of users’ privacy preferences with
each new incarnation.
Though Facebook has become an integral social tool, it’s important to remember that it is still a business, seeking to maximize profits. As Facebook has become more popular, the amount of information a user is required to make publically accessible has slowly increased. While Schrage insists
that this is in order to “facilitate the kind of experience people come to Facebook to have,” this process also facilitates Facebook’s development as an advertising tool.
While Facebook should endeavour to be more transparent about their usage of personal information, it’s already clear they’re reluctant to accept this responsibility; Schrage was also quick to sidestep a question about Facebook’s liability in the event any data was mishandled.
Technology pundits grumble that Facebook’s aggressive sharing of personal information and complicated privacy settings will eventually prompt the website’s downfall. As ambitious developers discuss and create privacy-oriented Facebook alternatives, it is possible that dissatisfied Facebook users will vote with their mice, rejecting the wholesale distribution of their marketing preferences.
For now however, the burden of protecting information on Facebook falls to the users themselves; until a viable alternative presents itself, Facebook is here to stay.
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