Facebook has become an integral part of modern life, it is no longer just a brand name, it’s a verb, I’ve been asked by people to “Facebook me” to make contact. It seems like it’s almost essential to have an account to remain a part of some communities as organisations’ Facebook pages become the default way of staying in touch, sharing information, and letting members know about upcoming events and changes.
When your preferred Church, school, bars, political party, charities, restaurants, sports clubs and gym all want to communicate with you via the site, and friends and family all share family news and photographs there, it can seem that you have to be a member to stay up to date and connected with the world, even if you don’t use it for business.
So what is it about? What is its purpose? Why does it provide its services for “free”, and what is it getting out of the deal?
What Facebook Says It Is
Back in early 2012 when the site was going public in its IPO, Mark Zuckerberg wrote an open letter outlining the purpose of the organisation as he saw it. He said that it didn’t set out to be a company, but that it existed “to make the world more open and connected.”. That’s quite a claim. The full IPO documentation.
Zuckerberg went on to describe how Facebook grew by adopting “Hacker Culture” to quickly build and adapt code that would make sharing easier, dumping services that people no longer found useful. The site grew fast, and for a long time struggled to make money.
Zuckerberg explains that Facebook has five core values, that sounds good, like a nice non-profit, working hard to bring people together, but it is not a non-profit. Many multi-million dollar lawsuits were fought over who owned how much of Facebook before the company even earned a dime, that doesn’t happen with many social enterprises. It’s also worth remembering that one of Enron‘s core values was “integrity”. Not every organization reflects its values in its behaviors.
For an easily digestible history of the site, watch The Social Network. It dramatises the early days of Facebook, from Harvard dorm rooms to becoming one of the most talked about businesses in the world, via several courtrooms. It’s not a documentary, it’s a fictional account, but it’s worth a watch.
Does Facebook Invade My Privacy?
The short answer to this question is an emphatic “no”. Facebook does not and cannot invade your privacy. The only way for the site to gain access to your private information is for you to open an account with them, or for someone to post information about you on Facebook.
If you don’t have a Facebook account, then the company knows nothing about you. People can choose to post up pictures of you, and write your name on the site, but that’s no different to anyone writing your name and number on a bathroom wall in the offline world, or carrying your picture in their wallet without you knowing (how creepy would that be?).
The difficulty I face is that to have an account I need to give up some of my right to privacy. I can minimize the extent to which I give up those rights. Only “friending” people who are my actual friends and relatives is a great start. Only posting information about me that I would be happy to appear on the front page of the New York Times every day for eternity next to my name is another good step.
People can be fooled into thinking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are private, but it’s safest to assume that any and all information you share on these sites is immediately viewable to the whole world. Once you’ve posted it, your “friends” can share it, even though you may later take it down, it is still findable by a determined person.
In choosing to use the site, I choose to give up some of my privacy in exchange for some convenience and entertainment. Only you can decide if that’s a fair bargain for you. I suspect Benjamin Franklin would resist, if you replace privacy and convenience with liberty and safety in his famous quote “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
I’m not Benjamin Franklin, but I’m not a Dummy. This guide to internet privacy is good for people making their first steps into the online world, either as “silver surfers”, or back-to-workers.
Facebook Is A Business
There’s an internet truism that holds “If you’re not paying for the service, then you are the product”. Facebook is a commercial business. People paid good money for shares because they wanted to make more money and thought that investing was a good way to make lots of money. It’s worked well for Mark Zuckerberg, at last count he was sitting on US$13.3bn.
In order to make money social media site sell advertising and goods, but people don’t much like advertising. To make advertising profitable, social media sites use all the data they have about you, and serve advertisements that match your interests, or your friends interests, or things that it calculates might be of interest to someone of your age and gender with your family relationships who has friends that post statuses about specific topics.
Right now I’m being served advertisements about cycling, a medical condition, house cleaning products and hotels in Europe. If I start to search off site for flights toCopenhagen, I’ll get adverts for hotels in Copenhagen, internet businesses use data about my searches to serve more relevant advertisements. If I like a page about wine, I’ll notice a flood of wine adverts.
Goods are trickier for Facebook. They don’t have the fulfillment capabilities of Amazon (yet), but they do have lots of games on the site, and to level up people buy virtual cows or candy bars, and Facebook takes a cut of each sale.
Facebook will continue to look for more ways to monetize, and whilst its Coins currency hasn’t taken off (yet) it will continue to look for ways to take a slice of your buying dollar.
Want to know how Mark Zuckerberg thinks? Want to know how he develops ideas about how to make more money?
He’s not going to tell you. He’s going to keep his ideas to himself and use them to make more money, but Ekaterina Walter believes she’s figured him out. Here’s her take on how to think like Mark Zuckerberg.