Are Facebook’s latest applications an invasion of privacy?
Facebook is a social networking site launched at Harvard by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004. Facebook was expanded throughout colleges in America before; in September 2006 it was launched worldwide.
As of January 2008 Facebook had over 60 million users, an average daily growth of about 200000 new users, and around 65 billion page viewings every month¹.
In October 2007 Microsoft paid $240m (£117m) for a 1.6% share of Facebook making the company worth an astonishing $15bn (£7.3bn).
It is difficult to justify this figure being put on a company which is just three years old and as of today has yet to make a profit.
So just how will Facebook make any money? Apart from the obvious vast amount of data they have on their users, on November 6th 2007 Facebook announced it was launching its latest applications – Facebook Ad’s and Project Beacon.
What are Facebook Ad’s
What are Facebook Ad’s and Project Beacon?
Facebook ad’s – Business’ can set up their own profile pages on Facebook in much the same way an individual user can. Members can then become ‘friends’ with this company or write reviews on their products or services.
When you perform one of these actions the information will be sent to your friends Facebook pages saying things like Russell bought this or wrote areview about that.
Facebook claims that this will change the face of advertising but is it one step to far and an invasion into our privacy.
What is Project Beacon?
Project Beacon – The Facebook Beacon is similar to a news feed. When you buy something or view something on another site this information will appear in your Facebook newsfeed.
Originally intended as an ‘opt out’ application, Facebook have been forced to change their stance due to a user backlash and have now given users the chance to ‘opt out’ instead.
The makers of the site claim the application will give its users even more information on what their friends are currently watching, doing, eating and whatever else.
Marketers on the other hand will have much greater scope for attracting new customers.
The best way to market any product is by the use of friends sharing information.
Is it an invasion of our privacy?
Some may argue just by having a Facebook account that we are already relinquishing rights to our privacy.
Although I agree with this to an extent we still currently have some semblance of control over the personal details which we reveal to our Facebook friends.
By tying into the Facebook ad's application we are losing much of this control.
The main issue I have with the beacon is do we really want people to know what we have been buying and viewing.
Most people 'friends' on Facebook are not exactly what could be called close. Many are passing acquaintances and some may even be people we have never met.
Do we really want these people to know intimate details about our buying preferences and private life?
Do we want friends or relations to know what we have bought; they could be gifts for these friends.
What’s happening to our data?
Even though Facebook have now implemented the ‘opt-out’ option to stop the information appearing on Facebook pages they are still party to this data.
What exactly are they going to do with it? Will they be selling it too third parties or will they just use it, as they claim, to send us information on goods which may interest us in much the same way Amazon issues us its recommendations from previous purchases. http:// www.facebook.com/help.php?page =9
It is obvious Facebook needs to find some means of generating a significant income to justify their share-price.
Facebook ads gives them this opportunity, but is this invasion into our privacy going to ostracise users and cause them to choose a different social network.
This is perhaps more likely then the Facebook owners believe possible.
At this time Facebook may well consider they are untouchable when it comes to the world of social networking. This is a dangerous attitude to take, the internet is littered with social network sites who at the peak have taken a similar stance. Believing that having gained all these users means they will stay forever is a falsehood.
Several people I have spoken to are already considering closing their account if Facebook continues to implement the beacon application in its current form.
Facebook may well have to reconsider its stance over its latest applications or risk becoming the latest site to have led the market only to see its user base all but disappear.
In February this year Facebook saw its first fall in UK users. Between December 2007 and January 2008 user figures fell by 5%(5). Only time will tell if this trend will continue and we are seeing the beginning of the end for facebook