I’m sad to say I committed a felony this week. I’m hardly Charlie Bronson and it was nothing quite heinous enough to result in a court case or a ‘stretch inside’ but I did open someone else’s post. It was addressed to my halls, flat and room but for the previous occupant. I would of felt guilty about being this intrusive if I hadn’t justified to myself that I’ve had to share the same plastic coated mattress and noisy bottom floor window which people have posted crisp packets through as this mysterious stranger, I should at least be allowed to share his post too. You have to take the rough with the smooth. Also, surely being nosey is part of the journalist’s job criteria? My sins are atoned.

Anyway, if you believe crime doesn’t pay off then you’re wrong, because it does. I opened the envelope to find a magazine called ‘Exberliner’ which I found out is a very trendy German magazine (translated in to English) that discusses art, music and the social aspects of living in Berlin and other areas of Germany. Aside from articles about new music and the plans for a future trip to Berlin in the pipeline, I was drawn to an interview with Jakob Steinschaden, author of ‘Phänomen Facebook’. In this book Steinschaden criticises Facebook’s privacy laws, the rise of narcissism in Western Culture due to online profiling, the amount of data we hand over to the social networking site and the big business that is done with this data.  An example Steinschaden used to show how Facebook exactly uses our data was a story of some students who were planning a trip to Finland. They were discussing their trip over the site when they began to receive adverts from Finnair on their profiles. It’s safe to say with Germany’s history of Big Brother style government, Steinschaden feels wary about being this monitored, but that doesn’t mean it’s not our problem here in Britain also.

I decided to test the theory for myself and for once paid attention to the little boxed advertisements on the right hand side of my home page. It was a little unnerving to find the first advert I saw to be for a free bet on my home team to win their next football match and then to see the one underneath to be for HBO and ‘The Wire’; a show which I’ve declared my love for on the site many times before.

Obviously, websites guess on their demographic and the best brands to advertise to them in the same way television shows, radio programmes and magazines have done for decades before. The difference is that Facebook holds so much data on us; location, age, friends, interests, conversations, family information and relationships that they no longer have to guess. That’s a scary amount of knowledge to have on over 500 million active Facebook users worldwide.  This means that as well as the site becoming an extremely powerful business tool with estimated revenue of $1.1 Billion Dollars this year alone, maybe more worryingly; it means we’re being monitored more closely than it appeared at first.  Tailor made adverts is one thing but is that the be all and end all? Who else is our data shared with? What would happen if this information got into the wrong hands? It’s a foreboding point raised and I’ve become a little more wary of the gigantic information sponge that is Facebook and how comfortable I feel using it.

The question raised for me is does this mean I’ll delete my profile in order to save myself from Facebook’s all seeing eye? At this stage (as deeply depressing as it is to admit) it would be like losing a limb. Facebook is my main source of online information now whether that’s catching up with friends, news, music or upcoming events. Steinschaden describes it as ‘the internet within the internet’, being much more convenient and easy than scouring through many different sites for many different services when they’re all on one site.  However, I still don’t know whether it’s right to sacrifice a large chunk of your privacy in order to receive this service. Maybe me and the other 500 million would have been wise to read the terms of service before we eagerly logged on to innocently connect with friends.


2 Responses

  1. A great blarticle – as for the advertising being geared towards what we say on our profile…I read somewhere (don’t ask where I can’t remember) that websites have the technology to pick out key words and gear advertising towards those key words. For example, everyone from your home town may have that gambling advert on their Facebook – even though they have not expressed a desire to gamble.

    For every person that clicks on one of the adverts down the side, Facebook gets a commission for taking people to that site. So the better suited the advert, the more money Facebook make. And this applies to all websites.

    Because of this, a programme was designed to recognise people’s interests and advertise specifically to an individual. This way any website will make more money, just by having a key word recognition service.

    As it is a programme as opposed to people controlling it, I am sure we are not being monitored as closely as we could be – I am the kind of person who likes to think I can keep private information private.

    However, I do agree that the possibility is there for every move anyone makes to be tracked…

  2. I committed the same crime, but fear it was a bit worse :S See, I have a Royal Bank of Scotland bank account. A letter arrived and was addressed to my room, so without double checking, I opened it and was surprised to see that my ‘credit card had not been used in long and should therefore be reactivated’.
    Not only had I never ordered a credit card, I had also many other bank problems at the time (pay telephone bills etc) which just made me panic and run to the bank across the corner. The man who helped me looked confused for a while, and then asked if my name was really Kerry Lennox.
    there we had it, stupid mistake.

    btw, I just checked my facebook adds, and its true. Snowboarding, photography and wildlife. scary but smart!

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