So, how many of you have heard something – anything – about Facebook‘s latest privacy debacle? Chances are, if you have been following any news that is the slightest bit techy, then you have heard something about it. It is the tech talk du jour, and it all began when Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg spoke at Facebook’s f8 conference on April 21, 2010. Among other announcements he made on behalf of his mega-company, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook would begin testing a new service called “instant personalization” with three partners — Microsoft Docs, Pandora, and Yelp.
Instant personalization…sounds innocent enough, right? Here’s how it works. Suppose you are, like me, and avid fan of Pandora. You listen to it everyday, have created personalized radio stations to suit your ear, and share your listening pleasures with others. Using “instant personalization,” Pandora will “now be able to look directly at your Facebook profile and use public information — name, profile picture, gender and connections, plus anything else you’ve made public — to give you a personalized experience.” You can link to the source of this quote here.
Reader: [scratching head, looking puzzled] I still don’t see what the big deal is, Mr. Privacy Advocate.
Mr. Privacy Advocate: [incredulously] Because, Facebook doesn’t intend to stop there. Soon, they will be partnering with everyone you can think of, the government, foreign companies, terrorists, lions, tigers, and bear, Oh my!
True to his word, and despite my sarcasm, Mr. Privacy Advocate is correct. Facebook does intend to partner its “instant personalization” feature with others beyond Microsoft Docs, Pandora and Yelp. This probably means advertisers, a source of great contention among Facebook pros already. Or course, Facebook’s expanded use of “instant personalization” is contingent on the new product going over with the public.
Unfortunately, it is not going swimmingly. In fact, “instant personalization” is already starting to have the same stink about it that Google Buzz did only a few months ago. Already, privacy advocates have lined up with instructions on how to avoid getting caught up in Facebook’s latest privacy invasion. One of the best sites I have seen, for example, is ReclaimPrivacy, which you can link to here. The site has good, easy-to-follow instructions on how to maintain your privacy and still use Facebook.
I plan to opt out of “instant personalization” with a reluctant “I think” appended. I was an outspoken critic of Google Buzz when it hit the scene, and remain resolute in my position that Google, frankly, screwed up royally when it foisted Buzz on its unsuspecting consumers with no easy means of modifying or opting out of the service. Google learned its lesson quickly, owned the dilemma it caused, and has taken giant corrective steps (even if there are those who never think Google can do enough). I will give Facebook one bit of credit over Google – at least they did not unleash this product entirely; they limited its test run to three, relatively benign partners. Relatively.
That being said, it remains to be seen how Facebook intends to expand this product. Will “instant personalization” creep into user’s political affiliations, charity works, and private personas? Personally, I don’t know if Mark Zuckerberg wears ladies’ lingerie in his spare time and votes Peace and Freedom, and it’s none of his stinkin’ business if anyone else does. It is certainly not his right to pander in everyone else’s personal information for a measly buck. Or, is it? Note to self – better start reading those user/license agreements once in a while.
I have intentionally tried to build a bit of humor, equivocation and uncertainty into the wording and tone of this article. This is meant to reflect what I see as a great deal of concern, but also ambivalence, among Facebook users over “instant personalization.” I am a serious privacy advocate, and for me, the bottom line question is this: What in the hell is Zuckerberg’s problem getting his brain around his user’s right to privacy? When you operate a business, your customers’ right to privacy (even if it is not an ethical obligations, as it is with attorneys, doctors, and the like) is a matter of common courtesy. This is not Facebook’s first problem in the area, or even the second. It seems to be ongoing. I get that Zuckerberg is young and rich, and he lacks a degree of wisdom possibly made up for by smarts, energy and youthful creativity. But, give us a break, Mark. I love your product as much (if not more) than the next guy, and I mean that sincerely, but we’re not captive audiences…we could always go to, uh, MySpace.