There’s been a huge buzz lately about Facebook’s attempt to roll out Beacon, an application that would effectively track anything you purchase online, and then post the purchase to your Facebook newsfeed. What I find most astonishing is that Facebook’s creator, Mark Zuckerberg, seems surprised at the backlash against Beacon.
First Coca-Cola jumped ship (though it’s not really clear how the Coke deal would work; every time I buy a soda from a vending machine people on my newsfeed will know? And they’ll know I’m drinking—gasp!—vanilla coke? Sweet shit!). Then Overstock. Now it sounds like Travelocity is getting the fuck out of Dodge.
How could Zuckerberg not have seen this? Duh. He’s surrounded himself with a group of people hell-bent on monetizing a largely useless web service. Yes it brings people together and allows them to share photos and wall posts. Then what? Yeah, exactly. That’s what big Z and his cronies are struggling with right now. They sit in the Barad-dûr penthouse, right beneath the eye of Sauron, smack dab in the centre of Mordor, and wouldn’t you know it? They’ve completely lost touch with the most important part of the entire Facebook network: the user.
The concept of social networks, as codified in web 2.0 format, is fairly new. And it’s easy to lose sight of what Facebook was trying to do in the first place (connect people better than MySpace or Friendster ever could), especially when they have a team of billion-dollar investors demanding to know just how the hell Z-berg’s going to make money.
Meanwhile, you have a bunch of mouth-breathers willing to fork over the most mundane and questionable details about their piddly little lives, and it seems like it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to invade their privacy just a touch more. But Facebook isn’t a Legion of Idiots. Some deeply intelligent people use it as well. To play Scrabulous.
And stalk their girlfriends.
And we… uh, I mean, those people are worried about privacy. They use Facebook out of necessity. Because everyone else does. Just like everyone else uses the telephone. It’s not that these people love Facebook. Some of them eventually grow to resent it, and abandon their accounts. But those who don’t have taken it upon themselves to protect the aforementioned mouth-breathers from their own feeblemindedness.
That’s where groups like Moveon.org come in. These excellent people fought the good fight and called to task the creators of Beacon and their Facebook progenitors. They pointed out some of the fatal flaws inherent in the application, and companies like Coke and Overstock took notice.
At its most basic, this means that Facebook friends in your network won’t be able to find out what you got them for Christmas. And it’s more important, it means people’s privacy will be violated only if they want it to be.