Facebook is kind of an ironic name for something that is neither a book nor allows for any real face time. But it’s pointless to quip over the accuracy of the name, since the website has steadily taken over everything and everyone.
By now, a lot of people have probably seen “The Social Network,” the somehow critically acclaimed film about Mark Zuckerberg, a smart mouthed techie for whom getting dumped catalyzes the billion-dollar idea for Facebook.
The other details of the movie aren’t so important — there are lawyers, partying and Justin Timberlake. What’s more significant though is that there is an actual movie about Facebook, a company that hasn’t been around for more than a handful of years. We already knew that the site is a cultural phenomenon, but the fact that there’s already a major film about Facebook indicates how much the website is part of life.
Facebook has several features that firmly cement it into the average user’s life. Most importantly, the site takes part in “data mining,” which is the process of extrapolating site data into real information that is later used to formulate marketing and business tactics. Facebook collects — according to its policy page — only “some of the information you post” like friends added, groups joined, photo albums, poking, “liking” posts, events attended, sharing videos or the usage of applications. It goes even further in stating that information friends provide about you will also be accounted for. So in short, Facebook basically logs almost all of your online pseudo-life, from the actions you take to those taken by others you know. The site then uses the information to make assumptions about what kind of consumer you are.
The ads on the sides of the screen are picked according to information that a user puts onto the site. For example, I always get ads for Stateside Apartments. Do they sound familiar? Probably not, because they’re not in Ann Arbor — Stateside is a swanky apartment complex that’s located in Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve probably had a few status updates informing all my “friends” — who probably don’t care — that I’m in Madison for the weekend to visit my brother. This information was retained by the Facebook servers to tempt me in the form of an advertisement later. Maybe this targeted advertising would work if I put up more about myself and “liked” things more often. Facebook would tell me better things to buy and everyone would be happy. But somehow, I don’t mind escaping this marketing manipulation. Sorry, capitalism.
Since advertising companies have always been trying to find innovative ways to get into people’s pockets, it isn’t very shocking that Facebook utilizes this tool. But this storage and use of personal information is causing some problems.
According to an Oct. 21 CNN article, a recent study conducted in Germany found that the specific targeting of Facebook ads is specialized for gay and lesbian users. The study used six fake accounts, two of which were listed as men and women who preferred the same sex. All of the other information on the accounts besides sexual preference was identical, but in spite of this, the ads were different for the two test profiles. If a user were to click on one of these, the advertiser would now have the IP and email addresses associated with Facebook. Virtual footprints from one simple click would be trailed through the Internet — saving potentially sensitive personal information.
In addition to this problem, Facebook profiles are impossible to delete. They can only be deactivated. The site keeps your information indefinitely unless you either delete all wall posts and pictures manually or make requests that your shadow profile be completely deleted. Even if you do manage to disengage yourself from this site, you’ll never be able to extricate yourself completely and protect your privacy.
Facebook is probably going to grow and grow until every single thing about us is logged into servers and we’ll all walk around with wireless microchips in our heads. Maybe not even walking — everyone will live in jelly tank things like in the Matrix and interactions will occur in cyberspace. The sun will be blocked out by a floating monolith of the Facebook logo, everyone will use a variant of Newspeak, and we’ll spend our time playing Farmville and discussing YouTube videos.
Seriously, though, Facebook shouldn’t be doing all of this information-hoarding. And though the company says it doesn’t sell your info, third party apps available through the site are able share your usage with trackers and advertisers. There’s nothing anyone can do about it unless we find a way to delete our profiles and revert back to actually calling each other to socialize — or maybe start to pay for the service. Since the likelihood of either of those things happening is slim, I suppose we’re all stuck.
Vanessa Rychlinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.