If a government was running Facebook, would we be outraged by its invasion of our lives? Would we demand an end to the intrusive ways aggregators mine and assemble our behavior into virtual replicas of ourselves for sale to the highest bidder? Our digital doppelgängers are cartoonish replicas for now, but the resemblance will become increasingly lifelike with huge volumes of disparate data flooding into Facebook with every transaction performed through its ubiquitous login. Shouldn’t we know what they think they know about us?
The government forces credit-rating firms to hand over our financial dossiers once a year at no charge. Should it demand as much from Facebook, Google and Linkedin? It’s essential to see how we’re being portrayed by data aggregators. A simple Freedom of Information Act letter will open your FBI file if you’ve got one. Shouldn’t Facebook be equally accountable?
The stealthy way Facebook curates our lives is the most pervasive of any social medium. I've blogged about Facebook’s latest campaign to target children, but it isn't the only player chasing market supremacy in the identity game.
Google keeps nagging users for their phone numbers. Twitter’s “Find Friends” feature gobbles up iPhone contacts, phone numbers and email addresses. Linkedin inhales calendar entries and stores a detailed record of who we’re hanging with, including the wheres and whens. Facebook forever remembers what we see online at Like-enabled sites, like ’em or not.
Where’s it all heading? This week, Spiegel Online nailed a credit-reporting firm developing a system to mine Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin data — even locations cruised in Google Street View — to determine credit risk based on what it believes you’re thinking.
Without the ability to challenge errors, we’re quickly being reduced to an algorithm’s guess of who we are — right, wrong or damning. As Time asks, “Do references to yachts and limos mean you’re wealthy or just a fan of reality shows about the lives of the rich and famous? How much of a risk are you if you read crime stories, vent about a speeding ticket or Like every bar in town?”
The Guardian has nailed it. “Facebook’s Open Graph technology allows third-party websites to tell Facebook what people are doing. It extends Facebook’s Like button to include any action that the site owners think might be interesting to Facebook. Play a song and your music streaming site tells Facebook what you've played. Read a newspaper article and Facebook knows what you've read. LOL at a lolcat and your LOL gets logged for all time on your indelible activity record. Facebook calls this ’frictionless sharing’, which is its euphemism for silent total surveillance.”
The pattern seems clear. Facebook and other social media will continue to push the privacy envelope until they’re caught in another reprehensible act — then they’ll hide their behavior in the dense foliage of indecipherable policy. Their bait is our very human need to communicate with friends and loved ones, and the nagging suspicion that we’re missing out on something interesting and fun. But at what price?