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]

Blue Beanie Day

On Monday, November 26, 2007, don your blue beanie to show your support for web standards and accessibility. So goes the pitch by Douglas Vos, founder of Facebook’s Designing With Web Standards Group:

Monday, November 26, 2007 is the day thousands of Standardistas (people who support web standards) will wear a Blue Beanie to show their support for accessible, semantic web content. … Don a Blue Beanie and snap a photo. Then on November 26, switch your profile picture in Facebook and post your photo to the Blue Beanie Day group at Flickr.

Is this silly or serious? Seems to me, it’s a bit of both. If enough people do it on enough social networks, it might even raise web standards awareness in a small but positive way. (As opposed to, say, busting people for a validation error, which, surprisingly, doesn’t win you their love.)

Participation is easy. Here are the instructions, from Facebook’s Blue Beanie Day Event Page:

  1. Make a personal commitment to fight Web Standards Apathy. Show solidarity with the Standardistas on November 26th, 2007.
  2. Buy, beg, or borrow a Blue Beanie (blue hat or cap, even a black or grey one will do in a pinch.)
  3. Take a photo of yourself wearing the Blue Beanie. Or take a cool group photo of you and your friends wearing Blue Beanies.
  4. Post your photo, or photos to Facebook, the Flickr pool, and other social networks on November 26th, 2007. Remember to switch your profile photos that day on all your social networks, like Flickr, Twitter, Last.fm, iLike, Pownce, Dopplr… you name it.
  5. Promote Blue Beanie Day in your blog or wiki starting today, and tell all your friends to get ready for Blue Beanie Day. Start by inviting all your Facebook friends to this event.

Related Links

[tags]webstandards, webdesign, accessibility, bluebeanieday, blue beanie day,facebook, twitter[/tags]

DWWS Facebook group

A few days ago, Douglas Vos of Dearborn, Michigan, created a Designing With Web Standards group in Facebook just to see what would happen. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not like he started a group about moss formations or watching paint dry. Doug has read both editions of the book twice, and is a big fan of standards-based design. He started the group because he was interested in web standards and he wanted to understand, from the inside, how such groups function and grow in Facebook.

At this moment, the group has 422 1,142 members, seven wall posts, eleven discussion topics, three photos, one video, and two links. I wrote a post there today about my upcoming web standards talk at BusinessWeek.

I am curious whether the new group will become a passive affinity group or something more.

By passive affinity group, I mean the kind of group people join to show they belong—and then don’t do much, if anything, once they’ve joined. For instance, hundreds of thousands of people joined a Facebook group in support of the monks’ protest in Burma. Everyone who joined supports free speech and democracy, but only a tiny handful of group members create content or begin initiatives. For the few who are active, membership in the Burmese monk support group is an act of political and spiritual engagement. But for most members, it’s passive. This is true of all social groups (online and off) and nearly all human activities.

If people who incorporate web standards in their work join the DWWS Facebook group as an act of affinity, that’s fine and dandy, and it will be in some small way a measure of the progress of web standards as a movement or discipline. But the group could do more. Much more.

For instance, the group could track large-scale conversions to web standards and accessibility among corporate or government websites. It could also track backsliding, such as the infamous British Disney site, redesigned for standards compliance and accessibility by Andy Clarke at the beginning of the 2000s, and then redesigned back to tables and cruft by a successor web agency.

The group could track which schools and universities are using Designing With Web Standards and other “web standards” texts in their design or web curricula.

The Web Standards Project used to keep track of such things when I was running it, and I used to keep track of them here, as well; but I can’t do it any more, and The Web Standards Project doesn’t seem to be doing it either (probably because The WaSP is busy with other activities).

Maybe that’s where you come in.

It’s just a group on Facebook, but it could do some good.

[tags]dwws, designing with web standards, facebook, zeldman, books[/tags]