Facebook and your privacy

Months after geeks who hate walled gardens hailed Facebook as the great exception, Facebook announces that it is wholesaling our privacy to any turdball with a dirty nickel to spend. So what else is new? And what do we do about it?

In a titled-for-SEO-rather-than-readers article, “Do Facebook users care about “privacy issues?” What about Doubleclick?,” Eric Eldon defends Facebook’s violation of its users’ privacy on the grounds that not many users have protested.

Some may not have protested because the petition against Facebook’s Beacon advertising feature is hosted by Moveon.org, an organization half of America considers a tool of the Antichrist. Many more may not have protested because they don’t know Facebook is violating their privacy. In a prove-nothing survey, no Facebook user I talked to yesterday was aware of the Facebook privacy concerns.

The New York Times explains what Moveon and members of the Facebook group, Facebook: Stop invading my privacy!, are protesting:

MoveOn is objecting to a new advertising technique that Facebook announced a few weeks ago that posts members’ purchases and activities on other websites in their Facebook profiles. Users can choose not to have the information posted from individual sites, or “opt out,” whereas with most Facebook applications associated with external sites, users must proactively choose to participate, or “opt in.” With the Beacon feature, if a user does not specifically decline participation, his or her Facebook friends will get a “news feed” notice about the purchase.

Back to Eldon. The interesting tidbit in his titled-for-SEO article is the suggestion that MoveOn is protesting the wrong thing, and that the problem goes well beyond Facebook:

Facebook uses the cookie it requires for logging into its site to track what you do on other sites, from what we can tell. These cookies are unique identifiers—code sent to each user’s computer from Facebook, and tracked by Facebook when they visit web pages.

In other words, Facebook tracks what you do when you are on websites other than Facebook, and shares that information with its advertisers and your Facebook friends. Hmm, who else does that sound like?

Google’s Doubleclick and Microsoft’s Atlas ad networks also use cookies to track user actions, and this is a long-standing issue for online privacy advocates. In fact, the U.S. Senate is looking into Doubleclick’s privacy issues now. We have not heard MoveOn comment on cookie tracking as it relates to Beacon or any other company that uses cookies to track users.

Spurious “no comment” jibes aside, Eldon has a point. Even if you feel smug for never having joined Facebook, unless you anonymize all your web browsing sessions, refuse to use or accept cookies, turn off images (in case one of them is a “tracker GIF”), and go into the woods with Ted Nugent and a crossbow, Big Advertising already has your number. It knows where you live, where you shop, and how much porn you download.

But that DoubleClick sins doesn’t excuse Facebook from betraying its members’ trusts.

(And yet, what else should we have expected? Did we really think Facebook’s investors just wanted us to have fun? Did we believe if there was a way to make a dirty dollar, they would scorn it on ethical grounds? This isn’t the Well, people.)

Stipulate that we like using Facebook but that we don’t wish to be denuded for the enrichment of goblins. Beyond joining the group and signing the petition, what do we do?

[tags]facebook, privacy, advertising, web advertising, doubleclick, socialnetworking[/tags]