The web is generational, progressive. We have truly hit web 2.0. Nowadays we acquire our social-technological skills through the internet, less face-to-face and much more face-to-screen. At school I talked and wrote letters. At Uni and the following years spent traveling, it was email. More recently it is mobile phone, email, text, I.M., forums and v.o.i.p.
Most, if not all of my friends today remain proficient at email, IM and mobile phone use. Those old friends that aren’t have turned into acquaintances and some have slipped right out of sight. That rings true for some family too.
It is not uncommon for today’s 13-year-old to be communicating through gaming channels, blog comments, text messages, photo messages, mobile phones, v.o.i.p, twitter and a host of others I have yet to discover. Some of these social trends are adopted almost instantly and, virus-like cross age groups and social networks. Those involved now learn newer and easier ways of getting through to their lattice of digitally minded acquaintances.
This is old news to most of the people I communicate with, as many in my social-technological circles are old hands at all these methods and are ready to grab hold of any new techno-fad that hits their screens.
So what’s really new? Well at the moment I have found myself sucked into the virtual world of Facebook. Kind of a myspace for the more discerning web networker. I finally found myself giving in to the incessant barrage of Facebook requests from friends that could quite easily find me elsewhere, and partly though a feeling of inadequacy when people say.. Oh you don’t have a Facebook account?”
Well now I do and if I thought Googles data mining activities were overt, nothing could have prepared me for Facebook. I guess all this has been a roundabout way of trying to say Facebook owns YOU. Perhaps not in physical form but as far as your virtual online life goes (and lord knows that is the largest portion of our waking lives now-a-days) Facebook owns the data, use patterns, preferences, communications and adoption trends of the entire next web generation. What’s more, the data acquired through all of your innocent online ramblings is incredibly clean, trustworthy, and as collated as any marketer could dream of.
But it’s not just all marketing, there’s something much more sinister in Facebook’s digital files. Facebook owns the data of the first generation to live their entire lives online, a generation that will spend their lives studying and trying to get to grips with the world and its intricacies. Do I, already in my thirties, feel a generation chasm opening up between me and all those to follow?
This is all different to Google’s data collection techniques. If Google takes its time behind the scenes sorting through your Google mail, blogs and web searches to profile you, Facebook is straight in there, offering you convenient little white boxes for you to fill in all of your little secrets, your hearts desires and any other personal info you may whisper a friend.
If a man in a dark suit arrived at your door unannounced asking for your name, date of birth, marital status, name of partner, political view, religious persuasion, address, phone number, details of all of your friends, lists of the kind of books you read and films you watch, poems you have written, a few diary entries and – to top it all – wanted a selection of photos with descriptions of all those in the pictures, would you busy yourself providing a shoe box with all this handy information in so he could take it away?
No. I wouldn’t ether. I’d at least ask him who he was and what he wanted it for. If his answer was something about being a multinational corporation worth billions of dollars, and that he wanted to help you make friends and keep those that are your friends informed of what you are up to, would that make you any more likely to hand over your life details to him?
It’s absurd on so many levels and yet, en mass we seem to blindly offer ourselves up on a plate. The only difference is we have not been able to look these guys in their collective faces. And has anyone actually bothered to read the small print, the details in which the devil lives? Here is an extract of the first page of the many paged terms and conditions.
“All content on the Site and available through the Service, including but not limited to designs, text, graphics, pictures, video, information, applications, software, music, sound and other files, and their selection and arrangement (the “Site Content”), are the proprietary property of the Company”
Just in case that statement wasn’t clear and frightening enough. I’ll put in another, long extract. If you can’t be bothered to read it, it can be summarized thus: “I hereby surrender all rights of ownership, control and use of everything I’ve posted on Facebook.” In legal jargon, that looks like this:
“When you post User Content to the Site, you authorize and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content.”
You may say that this is the norm. If so, how did we let it get this way? Is our privacy worth this little? Wikipedia has a concise history and also raises the privacy issue quoting a line that has appeared in Facebook’s privacy agreement as stating “We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile.”
Another clause that some users are critical of reserves the right to sell users’ data to private companies, stating “We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship.”
So in a nutshell, what are the pros and cons? Anything that fosters communication and spreads ideas has some inherent goodness. Its design makes it ridiculously easy to use and it is always good to meet new people. Combine that with the fact it is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week and you are allowed to advertise and it is hardly surprising people are flocking to use it.
In my opinion it’s all too easy for some people to become addicted to it, and obsessed by what is a distraction. It breeds procrastination. There is no real human interaction only odd, counterfeit relationships; people pretending to be interested in others, in the hope they collect more friends to look at their facts and figures, blogs and interests.
Also, it is open to anybody and everybody, be they sales people, government agents or stalkers. Who is really behind the icon? When communication is reduced to a few lines of text, how do we know what’s really being implied? How can we really communicate?
This is all coupled with the incredible technology designed purely for extracting personal, and potentially useful information. Frankly, I can’t see why an educated and informed person would even log on.
Curiosity maybe? We’ll go ahead, sign up if you dare, but before you do, do some homework on what you’re signing up for. Take a look around the web and read some of the concerns. To save time you could just head over to my other blog posts and a whole host of links. You may even stumble apon the speculation that the C.I.A and the shadowy ‘Information Awareness Office’ have links to funding of Facebook.
Ultimately the decision is yours. As long as you are fully aware that in this Orwellian community all you write, post, mention, show, mail, blog and comment is fully accessible and archived by numerous people behind the scenes and you are cool with that, then no problem. I hope nothing you write comes back to haunt you.
So in answer to my question is Facebook an innocent social networking website or a state of the art intelligence gathering organisation?
If you want to leave feedback you can use the comment section below or perhaps skype me at christianpayne.. Just please don’t ask me to chat on Facebook.