The link above is to an op-ed piece that has appeared in newspapers including the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The author of the piece, Froma Harrop, seeks to compare Facebook and Mark Zuckerburg to George Orwell's Big Brother concept from 1984. Facebook is voluntary. Nobody is holding a gun to my head and forcing me to stay, nor are they forcing the author who discloses at the end that she is, in fact, a member. We choose to join Facebook to become more connected to the people around us. Facebook gave us the space and forum to be ourselves and we chose to use it.
The author states that Facebook has been valued as high as $100 billion (don’t forget the Dr. Evil pinky) and is worth more that Caterpillar, Ford or Kraft Foods. Yes, they are. Data is worth a lot of money and yes, they will sell that data in aggregate (a giant lump of anonymous data) to advertisers who will target us with focused ads. Focused ads? You mean I will get advertising that is relevant to what interests me? This cannot happen. I demand that I get advertising for feminine hygiene products and denture cream.
The author asks how Facebook will “ramp up the surveillance level,” and say that they already know so much about us by our wall posts, comments and likes. I can tell you that they don’t know what brand of toilet paper I use or how often I need to buy it, but I know someone who does. Any store that uses a discount card automatically knows everything I buy and how often I buy it. There is one other organization that knows way more about us than any social network, search engine or grocery store. That is our ISPs. They hold the keys to our kingdom and are required by law to hold on to two years worth of our web surfing data. I personally don’t care, I choose to share what I want, but I still keep privacy.
My personal information is still locked in the metal cabinet that the author refers to. The information I share is what I choose to share for my own reasons. I will only post something that, if it were to be spread around the globe, I wouldn’t care. I am being social and that means sharing with others. Facebook allows us to share with friends when they are not in the room with us and it allows us to share with many at one time. This is a new world we live in where we have the ability to share and make new connections all over the world. Our ability to share with one another our experiences can actually help others. I can, if I so choose, tell my story of how I quit smoking and maybe something I say will help somebody else.
Anybody who is afraid of sharing and being public is more than free to stay off the social networks, use incognito browsing and avoid Google. The rest of us will continue to share as a community and tolerate the ads that cater to our interests (for the most part). We will continue to make the world a smaller place. Is there a creepy-factor to the targeted advertising? In a way, but rest assured, nobody is looking at my name and saying, “Pink Floyd, degree in electronics, Pearls Before Swine, check.” An advertising algorithm sees keywords and throws out ads based on those words. That’s all, and it explains why the ads are wrong many times.
Mark Zuckerburg is not Big Brother and Facebook is not the mysterious, “them or they” that people discuss in conspiracy theories. We are Facebook along with our friends and family. We are transforming the world a little bit at a time, by overturning support for bad laws, changing the direction of an organization, or overthrowing oppressive regimes around the world. This connectedness we are experiencing is not going away and if the price of that is some computer algorithm knowing my shoe size, then I think it’s a pretty good deal. By the way, I wear a size 16.