Thursday, November 29, 2007

Re-Imaging our Social Media Selves: Facebook Rethinks Beacon "Creeptech"

Update Apparently 50,000 incensed Facebook users could be enough to make Facebook do something about Beacon--or, will Facebook continue (as in the words of to meet "the wish lists of corporate advertisers ahead of the basic privacy rights of Internet users." Sign the petition here

More from Techcrunch: Facebook flips on Beacon

So, finally, something's gotten to the guys at Facebook, and they're beginning to see that their wonderful idea for rummaging around in the underwear drawer of your social networking purchasing private life--with a thing called "Beacon"--wasn't going to win them any new friends, and has alienated quite a few old ones (see above) Businessweek reported that not only were people none too happy with Beacon's "creeptech" sharing the most intimate details of your purchase history with everybody you know on Facebook, but that there was a particularly hinky opt-out system where you really weren't getting the option to "opt-out."
Several people complained they weren't given the option not to share information publicly, or that pop-up notices on partner sites were too subtle to notice. Kim Garvey, a 21-year-old junior at Chicago's DePaul University, says she found out about Beacon after friends were alerted to a restaurant review she posted on Yelp. "I didn't see the little thing that popped up, and I didn't mean to tell everyone," Garvey says."For me, that was sort of uncomfortable." She adds that she was surprised Facebook "is willing to invade people's privacy

Not to mention that privacy groups are readying complaints to be filed with the FTC regarding this particularly creepy little piece of creeptech...

Yet I'm somewhat stunned by the way some folks (esp. some marketers who seem to be losing their senses) have thought that Beacon is a "cool" way to find out what your friends like. Think about it though: are you such an open book to all your friends that you really want them knowing every purchase that you make? Do you truly believe--like some Silicon Valley folks--that privacy is "an old man's concern" and it's perfectly fine to be a perfectly open book to every entity that is capable of surfing your social networking profiles?

Or (more than likely) are you one of those people who keeps more than one online personna just so that you've got groups of friends who *don't* know about your super-secret self--and another group of friends who doesn't know you're really a mini-van driving, bad-fitting-chino-wearing, haus-mann?

In this short piece at The Register, Chris Williams points out one of the ironies of social networking sites:
It's a well known phenomenon that social networks encourage users to be "friends" with people they wouldn't have anything to do with in meatspace, however.
This irony is highlighted in Steve Outing's recent post at Poynter where he suggests reporters keep two Facebook profiles,, one for "fans" and one for their real "friends," just like the folks at ABC News (both terms--friend and fan--now being stretched just a bit by soc. networking...)

Wouldn't that then make it Two-Face'dbook?? And, what happened to that notion of transparency???

What much of this boils down to is how much of our Selves are we knowingly and willingly going to keep putting out there if marketers want to rummage in our unmentionables and reporters continue to want to keep us at arm's length by having "fans" on one side and "friends" on the other? What's really going on with Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. and why do so many people seem to be resigning themselves to a loss of privacy in order to be part of the social networking world??

Perhaps what's truly going on here is a re-imagining of the public and private selves--notions prominent in Victorian times (and something pointed to in William's piece.) When the BBC's Adam Curtis was asked (in the third clip) if Facebook was the new TV, Curtis said that he believes Facebook was more about the re-invention of the public self. When "the central reality of our time" is all about putting the "me" in media, we are using social media to construct new public persona's in much the manner that the Victorians did. Curtis points out that people put up on Facebook who they want to be seen as and how they want to be measured by their communities--not totally their true selves (think about it: how many adults don't list their marital or dating status any more than they list their religion.) Our Facebook profiles *are* us, but only a version of us for the public gaze....

But don't we still want the ability to control what parts of our "public gaze" meets the "public gaze" of others? While we may get caught up in the hoopla of Facebook, and while so many may want to agree to the non-opt-out of Beacon creepware, there are many, many more of us who are interested in protecting our Selves (even if that Self is a filtered public gaze) from too much intrusion.

Let's hope Facebook makes a good, ethical decision before the FTC has to get involved...


DigiDave said...

Rocking post. Scoblizer has a good post too -- pointing out how Facebook's silence is suscpicous.

Tish Grier said...

Hi David! Well, given what happened last year with the RSS reader thing, I'm not surprised by the silence.

tedperl said...

Very clever. As someone who has not decided whether hew wants to embrace the new transparency or run and hide, I find your questions artfully phrased.