Critical Mass, Slactivism, and Online Privacy

After these 12 weeks of class, we’ve gone over many different topics. We’ve learned about privacy, companies’ responses to users’ concerns, and what would be the morally or ethically correct thing for companies to do with users data. Yet as we’ve realized, the only thing standing between companies and releasing their data to everyone is a vague law instructing the FTC what to do and the company’s own moral standards, resulting in policies of varying degrees. Those companies in the public view  have better policies; those in the business of staying unknown to the public while collecting data might me more liberal with them.

But how do users of the Internet know that their data is being collected? Are we supposed to automatically assume that any page we visit on the web is tracking us? That shouldn’t be a prerequisite for using the Internet.

There definitely is a vocal minority that wants better privacy controls, and we might just be their newest members, but it has not yet been able to achieve the critical mass needs to to actually effect change. So far, the FTC is the only organization with the power and authority to challenge companies on their privacy policies, though they do so under the auspices of “[preventing] deceptive and unfair business practices” and “[enhancing] informed consumer choice.” While it is great that the government does its research before reporting on violations, criticism does center on the delayed response the FTC often has on matters of privacy, and how decentralized the different privacy policies are.

I feel like therein lies a disconnect between the agency and the day-to-day business of normal Americans. Most people don’t want to read a lengthy report criticizing something and issuing recommendations; they would rather to have things, as Steve Jobs put it, “just work.” As such, it’s especially nice knowing that agreements between the FTC and Facebook and Google have established certain measures of privacy, but what about the other online ad companies? Not much happening there.

Even though most users of social networking sites do indeed care about their privacy, they aren’t willing to do to much to ensure that they have it. Of course, part of the blame can be attributed to the fact that most users don’t know about the myriad of companies tracking them across the web at any time, but I also feel that “slacktivism,” as Lovia mentioned in her presentation, contributes a great deal. If users first instinct to protect their privacy is to copy-paste a unverifiable paragraph of text into their status instead of doing a simple google search to get the actual answers, then can we really say that users care THAT much about their privacy?

It’s great that we advertising corporations that have come together to make opt-out pages such as this, and that’s probably the best we’ll get in terms of ways to limit tracking and privacy, but did anybody really hear about that site before it was shown in class? (Also, even though I opted-out of tracking that day in class, 20 new companies appeared on my list, so I don’t think it’s exactly effective). Even though we have the tools to protect our privacy, the average American user is a far cry away from actually using them to limit their tracking. Even the FTC chair, Jon Leibowitz, says, “[Users have only] a vague, inchoate understanding of what Websites are doing with their information.”

So while both the FTC and vocal users do argue about privacy, companies aren’t going to care that much until a critical mass of Americans realize what private organizations are doing with their data. Until the FTC chases after shady companies doing who-knows-what with people’s data or app developers with access to secret information as a whole, instead of individually, users will have to be vigilant about where they leave tracks for companies to pick up. It might be difficult, but is still definitely necessary.

And as we end this freshman seminar, I’ve certainly personally learned how laws and privacy apply to the internet. Sharing information, in this age of digital technology, instagram, and a multitude of other social networks and trackers, will become all the more important in the future, and I’m glad I had the chance to learn from some awesome professors about these issues. The discussions have been great, and I’m also glad to have had great discussions with thoughtful analysis. I’ll definitely apply some of this to my future interactions with social networks!

And finally, lets hope everything works out well, so this doesn’t happen!

Social Spheres in Facebook

Are you still in contact with your high school friends? Maybe even your middle school ones too? Even though they’re at other colleges, do you “comment” and “like” their posts when they come up? It’s a little funny to think that ten years ago, when all of us left for college, we would’ve had drastically less communication with our former classmates than we do now. They had no cell phones, no social networks; go back a decade and email would have been gone too!

Contrast that to today, where anyone can now log onto FAcebook or Twitter and immediately see what their friends are doing, wherever they are in the world. We don’t have to pick up a phone to communicate, or type out a more formal email message. We can see what songs they’ve listened to, what interactions they’ve had with their new college friends. And we’re able to remain in contact with them, no matter where they are.

However, this trend has spawned a arguably negative side effect. With more ways to stay in contact with old friends, there is more pressure for people to keep up their social standing. No longer do people only have to keep up appearances and actions with the friends they see every day in college; we now have to manage how our high school friends, middle school buddies, and even parents see us online. Managing ore social spheres is a difficult task, and most people only present one view of themselves on their profile at once. I mean, how many people have you met who tailor their posts stories to their different lists on Facebook or circles on Google+?

A recent study done in the UK concluded that the more connections people have with their past friends, the more of a source of stress those connections will be. While rather logical, it shows the dramatic effect social networks, especially Facebook, has had on people’s personal lives. The researchers write that users “are more likely to feel socially anxious as it will be difficult, if not possible, to meet the expectations of all audiences simultaneously.” In essence, social networks are where different social spheres converge (when previously they were, sometimes purposefully, kept separate!), and that convergence puts more pressure on the individual to “fit” into standards accepted by all of the social spheres.

Consequently, most people end up falling into one of two extremes. One typically stops caring about what different social groups see about them, while the other posts on Facebook so infrequently such that the only posts about them are too vague to draw any conclusions. I have seen very few people tailor themselves to different social groups, regardless, the fact that people have to manage multiple social groups still seems to complicate their lives.

People may say that Facebook is great and all for connecting with old friends, but that in itself might be a bad thing. Sometimes a fresh break from the past is what people need in their lives: to not have to care about how people they know in the past see them as they are now. Facebook prevents that from happening. No longer will friends remember you as you were when they knew you, they’ll also know you on what your’e like now, whether you like it or not.

 

PS. I have seen some people unfriend [practically] everyone in their contact lists when they go to college, which sounds like a effective, if not extreme, way to mitigate this.

Facebook’s first advantage is now it’s greatest disadvantage.

What was reportedly one of Facebook’s largest drawing points when it was first launched? It’s exclusivity. First limited to those with a harvard.edu email address, Facebook used to attract users by it’s “coolness” factor. However, as its popularity grew, and Facebook tried to capture more users, it gradually expanded its limitations until now, everyone can join. The userbase used to be limited to college students and teenagers, but now, with moms and dads now part of the network, Facebook began shifting from a place for informal teenage interaction to formal interactions, where job offers can even be made!

While this new development has definitely been great for Facebook’s dominance (and valuation, depending on who you ask), there is a general consensus that Facebook’s has become old, a little like the knowledgeable old grandpa who knows everything. He’s great for information, but you wouldn’t want to hang out with him for fun!

So save for the kids under 13 who can’t technically join Facebook because of COPPA, the social network is no longer the exclusive thing to be part of. Students are moving to newer social networks, such as Google+, Pinterest, and Tumblr to form a better and more similar community. Even Gina said a few weeks ago that she realized people are moving away from Facebook and to Twitter because it has become “uncool.”

Facebook has realized this shortcoming and has taken some steps to undo it. The company’s mobile app was slow and unpopular, while Instagram was quickly gathering users to its exclusive photo sharing network. Facebook responded by buying it up, but it can’t do the same with every social network challenger.

While being so called “uncool” isn’t arguably bad for social networking or Facebook, it risks leaving Facebook stagnant. It leaves the social network open to more agile, nimble, “cooler” companies to steal market share. It’s similar to how startups are able to challenge large established companies–because they can maneuver faster, offer better support, and better surround the market. Facebook, once the “hacker” startup, is slowly becoming what it so desperatly tried to replace.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem that can be easily solved. Human dynamics trend towards circles of people that hang out with each other, not large communities that treat everyone equally in terms of friends. There’s a reason why teenage circles and adult circles don’t tend to mix, and no matter how hard people try to integrate them. The way I see it, there’s not real way for Facebook to prevent itself from becoming plain. Even if the company creates certain circles of exclusivity, it won’t mitigate the fact that everyone uses this thing called “Facebook.”

Why Gamification? Because it Works. In Theory.

Why can’t social games keep engagement? Zynga clearly suffers from that problem, but why not Blizzard Entertainment (makers of Starcraft, etc.)?

I see two distinct types of games currently in the market: those that force players against each other in competition, and those that encourage users to aim for achievements, prizes, and short-term winnings. While these two do sometimes overlap, there seems to be a distinct gap as to which tactic a product is trying to use.

Zynga’s games and other games on Facebook, such as Tetris Battle, Tetris Friends, etc. clearly fall into the former category. For example, in Tetris, players are charted on a leaderboard based on points earned–more play means more points earned means a higher level on the leaderboard. Such competition, while at first fun, becomes meaningless after a while–the earliest and engaged adopter will be at the top, and as Nassim mentioned below, accompanied by the ones who spent money to get up there. Contrast that to Codecademy, which gamifies learning code by awarding badges and achievements to users who complete modules (kind of like the Halo franchise). If you ask me, Zynga’s model does not retain users–they become disillusioned with the far-away goal and give up after they realize that the game mechanic is always the same. In comparison, the other model relies on short-term prizes, which I believe is what helped more successful games succeed.

I see a contrast between how these “social games” and “traditional games” are developed. Games such a Starcraft and World of Warcraft (WoW) have the same gameplay mechanic time after time, yet they still retain hordes (pun intended) of users. What makes them different from Zynga’s Farmville or Cityville or the Ville…? For me, it seems like the social interactions in those games is brought to a deeper level–instead of simply collaborating for clicks and competing on the leaderboard on a slightly superficial gameplay screen hosted on Facebook, players are immersed into a completely different environment that forces them to collaborate with other, random players in real time. The end goal in those games isn’t to be better than other players–that’s more of a short term one. The end is to develop a community of gamers that work together, compete together, and get to know each other. While Cow Clicker has fostered a few people who can say that happened to them, the underlying mechanic of the game was not built that way. It’s sort of like the difference between playing board games every day with a few friends and going on OA with them–the latter inherently forces you to develop deeper friendships with others.

Lastly, I also feel that gamification can really be used for temporary competitions and user engagement. People online notoriously have a short attention span (a recent study pointed out that if a video buffers for more than 5 seconds, most people will begin to leave), and cannot simply sustain the continued momentum that current “social games” try to build. Even already popular games, (ie. Starcraft, WoW) mainly retain their membership because they attract players with short individual games (Starcraft), or short individual campaign sequences that have achievable and realistic goals (WoW). I believe that having a model that requires users to come back and “do stuff” for an unspecified amount of time is inherently unsustainable, which would also explain Zynga’s inability to retain users after an initial popularity.

Social Gaming and Gamification can work well–they just need to be implemented in the right way.

Facebook is a Game.

Yes, you read that right. No, not Facebook has games, but Facebook is a game.

Haven’t noticed yet? Take a closer look. See those numbers on people’s posts? __ likes, __ comments? While they do innocuously state how many people have interacted with that post, they also help people compete against one another.

 

PS. If you want to try getting rid of the numbers on Facebook, someone has written an extension exactly for that. It removes all numbers from likes and comments, and replaces them with blanks. Try it! It’s pretty refreshing.

When you look at a status or post someone particularly witty has put up, do you get a inner feeling of jealousy; why didn’t i get that many likes or comments on MY post? If you’re one of the lucky few that don’t get that feeling, then lucky you! Otherwise, for the rest of us, Facebook helps us unleash our inner desires to be popular, to be better than other people, especially socially.

These numbers enumerate our Facebook life. Instead of paying attention to the content, interaction, or quality of the post, we are drawn to how many people have “liked” a status, how many people have commented on a post, how many reshares a post you published to your timeline has. Facebook was meant to connect us to each other; instead, much of what occurs today is looking at how popular people’s posts get on Facebook. I mean NewsFeed doesn’t select the information that you care about, it basically selects the ones that are most popular–the ones with most likes, most comments, etc. In essence, Facebook forces you to consume the most popular posts, and thus subconciously encouraging people to post statuses that gather many “likes” and “comments.” Does anybody really pay much attention that one person who has posts that don’t gather any popularity? Only the most popular ones count, and Facebook helps reinforce that.

Have you ever put a status up hoping that people will notice it, like it, and comment on it? The way Facebook is designed encourages us to aim for this goal. Facebook’s like button on other webpages consists solely of a “like” button, and then a number of how many likes that page as garnered. No commenting system, no way for people to connect.

Then again, is this phenomenon unique to Facebook? One could argue that this isn’t Facebook’s doing, that the competition was something already present in existing social structures; Facebook just made it seem more pronounced. I mean, people do tend to gravitate the one person in social circles that makes witty jokes and thoughtful insights, right? But if one buys this argument, one also has to concede that everything about Facebook has made social interactions more pronounced. Perhaps Facebook really is simply just an extension of already existing social interactions and structures. Whether or not that’s true, I have yet to see deep, heart-to-heart, conversations occur online. Perhaps Facebook brings out the competitiveness in people after all.

The next time you go to post a status, ask yourself: Why are you doing that? For likes, comments, and popularity, or something else?

The Battle of Ecosystems: Google, Microsoft, and Amazon

Continuing the discussion in last week’s post, I will now address the other three challengers to the market: Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.

Google

Coming right up behind Apple, Google is the next biggest challenger for the loyalty of its users. Google already has the majority share of the search market–it just has to turn that lead into a lead for all of its services. In some areas it’s already leading: Maps, Android, Gmail, Docs, etc., but its current challenge is to get all of those services synced together.

Historically, Google early on established a model of positive feedback with the quality of their search engine and other offerings, but there was nothing essentially tying users to Google’s products. Old mail was stored on Gmail’s servers, but that could easily be ported to a new account (contrasted to Apple, whose ease of use and compatibility between Mac, iTunes, and the iPod [which could not be synced outside of iTunes] basically made it very hard to switch to a competing product). People could go use Google’s Search, Maps, Local, etc., but it was extremely easy for users to switch to other offerings, such as Bing, Mapquest, or Yelp. It also doesn’t help Google that physical devices tend to produce more impact than abstract ones.

Google is currently trying to wear away on Apple’s lead by building an ecosystem around its online offerings using its own ChromeBooks and devices that run its Android OS. These products tie down users to Google’s ecosystem. Android has been relatively successful because of two things: its openness and price. The OS is free for any company to use, a sharp departure to Apple’s philosophy of locking down ecosystems. Thus, more devices are pushed out, giving consumers more options, and thus higher market share (similar to Windows in the Windows v. Mac fight).

Google thrives on its web services, and has continuously been trying to tie users back to those services. The challenge for Google is to convince users to exclusively use their offerings and to tie them together, so users don’t view Google as having separate offerings–rather, a complete ecosystem to get everything done.

Microsoft

Microsoft, the late player to the ecosystem game, arguably has the hardest job in trying to win users over to its ecosystem. Besides starting 3 years too late on a phone and 2 years too late on a tablet, most people who would buy one of those devices have already bought into an ecosystem, if not with an Android or iPhone, with the iPad. Microsoft thus needs to offer compelling performance to tell users to make the switch to its Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Windows RT platforms. Unfortunately, it can’t really offer any migration paths between Google and Apple’s offerings, so Microsoft is stuck in a hard place.

Pity too, since the technologies look very promising. The Metro user interface style has been widely praised, and its easier than ever to sync documents and edit them using Microsoft Office anywhere you are. The one thing that Microsoft does have running for them, however, is familiarity, switching costs, and (to a slight extent) compatibility. Windows is the most used PC OS by far, and Microsoft can easily update those users machines to Windows 8. Corporate IT departments can also be loathe to switch to Mac, which won’t support the legacy software they run. Additionally, Windows RT also allows users to edit documents and presentations in full-featured versions of Microsoft Office, thus providing users with one feature no other tablet can offer. And with Windows 8’s app store, Microsoft can definitely lock users into their own ecosystems, because even if users aren’t using a Microsoft tablet, they can still buy into their ecosystem on their PC.

Microsoft’s challenge is to demonstrate to users that the benefits of their ecosystem is dramatically better than staying with either Google or Apple. If they can leverage their power with the living room through Xbox, the PC with Windows, and productivity with Office and convince people to switch (which is entirely possible!), they might just develop into a powerful force to be reckoned with. If not, it will remain a distant player in the personal device market.

Amazon

While not most visible, Amazon is also very far along in building its own ecosystem. Firstly, Amazon’s customer satisfaction, and therefore positive feedback, has been proven to be higher than any other company in the world, allowing it to retain customer loyalty. Amazon’s main offerings–its store and web services–generate enough revenue to allow this company to take a hit in other areas as an investment.

For example, Amazon’s Kindles are sold at a loss for each device, but because Amazon knows that this loss is offset by the purchases made for the Kindle, they are willing to subsidize the device. Thus, the Kindle line is able to undercut other eReaders and tablets, giving Amazon another major selling point. And because their Kindles are locked down, users are forced to buy books from Amazon’s own store, and read them on Amazon’s own proprietary Kindle software and hardware.

As such, Amazon uses its positive feedback for the marketplace to garner support for its other devices, and lower prices to undercut the competition for a slice of the pie. It’s been a successful strategy so far.

 

Lastly, building an ecosystem does not solely depend on the demand-side of devices. Customers want computers, tablets, and phones, but when looking into an ecosystem, they also want the apps and support that comes with it. Developers are often locked into one ecosystem by coding languages (Objective-C for Apple, Java for Google, C++/C# for Microsoft) and cannot easily migrate easily from one app store to another. One can argue that the iOS App Store is one of the main reasons why Apple devices are so popular. The same goes with the support after purchase (Apple Store, Microsoft Store!). Because in this new digital age, what matters is not the purchase (as Amazon has correctly figured out), but the company’s other offerings aside from the purchase. As companies increasingly vie for users’ loyalty, be prepared to see an influx of new tactics and services solely focusing on the ecosystem, because nowadays, that’s all that matters.

The Battle of Ecosystems: Apple

Jumping off of the brief question I asked in class yesterday, I’d like to give a brief overview and discussion about something relatively new in the battle for phone, tablet, computer, web, and cloud offerings: ecosystems. 10 years ago, the Shapiro article mentioned the concept of luring customers into an ecosystem, whether closed or open, depending on the model. We see that phenomenon more prevalent today than ever, as (mainly) three companies battle it out for customer’s money, favor, and loyalty.

Apple Logo

 

 

 

Apple

No one has ever used the ecosystem model as much as Apple has. Ever since Steve Jobs returned in 1996 to save the company, he wanted to provide its buyers a complete list of Apple products that would work well with each other. Steve Jobs even became annoyed when he had to be convinced to port iTunes to Windows (for greater iPod sales), because he wanted Apple products only to be available for Apple users.

Arguably, Apple’s ecosystem model even extended to before and after a product was purchased through Apple Stores. These locations allowed users to try out products with employees teaching (not selling) them about the computer, and even provided support after it was over, developing the first “ecosystem” model as we know it. This end-to-end interaction and support from Apple helped develop this network effect around its products.

Today, Apple’s ecosystem stretches from the iPod to iCloud. Every single Apple device can sync data, contacts, calendars, and email through iCloud. iPods and iPhones easily synced through iTunes, and nothing else. All users could also message each other using Apple’s free iMessage, restricted only to users of their products. Even though users were restricted to other Apple components using the 30-pin iPod cable (and now Lightning!), FireWire, Thunderbolt, etc. the lure is just too compelling to forgo. And Apple’s comprehensive support facilitated a positive feedback cycle: the more people were satisfied by the product, the more they were able to buy another and refer friends to it.

Why did Apple get people to switch from the dominant format, Windows? Compelling performance, among other things. Macs were generally known to work well (apparently 10x as well), and buying one immediately made you the “cool kid” on the street. Apple’s Performance Play definitely succeeded, though with strong challenges from Microsoft and Google, no one can predict how long Apple will hold on to its appeal.

However, there are some areas where Apple is still lacking in adoption, namely Office suites (iWork vs. Microsoft Office v. Google Docs), video and photo editing (Final Cut Pro v. Adobe Premiere Pro; Aperture v. Lightroom, etc.), mail (iCloud Mail v. Gmail v. Outlook.com [formerly Hotmail]), Objective C, etc. In most of these cases, it’s because compatibility is restricted to its own products, by using proprietary file formats or limiting use to its own software. For these offerings, Apple doesn’t have the 10x performance benefit it has with its other more popular products, thus they still remain niche products.

 

Apple currently has the lead among the companies listed, but next week, I’ll take a look at Microsoft and Google’s offerings, seeing how they try to compete with Apple to create their own ecosystem.

Facebook’s Terms of Use

Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities,” also known as their Terms of Use. At 7,000 words and 7 pages long, as anyone actually read it?

I’m about to, and lets see what we find. Choice quotes below.

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook,

Well that’s good to know!

…you specifically give us the following permission…you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).

So, even though we ourselves still own the data, we let Facebook do anything they want with it. This includes any other data on other websites with a “Facebook Connect” or “Like” button, as technically it’s “in connection” with Facebook. Note that the license granted to Facebook is transferable (to ?), non-exclusive, licensable, worldwide, and royalty-free; it gives Facebook a lot of flexibility.

Now after a few weeks, I don’t think any of us are surprised at what our data is used for. Facebook has so far already used our data to advertise for our friends and target advertiser’s ads to us.

This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

A few years ago, Facebook used to still keep deleted data; glad to see they’ve changed that policy. This point generally echoes the general rule applying to the entire internet: anything online cannot be deleted (It does have offer the silver lining that if the picture has not been “shared,” it can be deleted).

You will not collect users’ content or information

I found this statement especially ironic due to the fact that Facebook is doing the same to us. Then again, we are using Facebook as a free service, so it’s definitely not an equal trade.

On a separate note, there was an earlier blog post about how the National Archives are logging everything on the Internet, including all tweets. In a sense, these rules actually help prevent others from abusing people’s privacy on Facebook. Of course, Twitter is also fundamentally different, as everything on that site is public, so they don’t need to go out of their way to address the private aspects of individual users.

Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way.

I understand why Facebook would want un-anonymous discourse on its site by forcing everyone to use their real name, but part of me also detects a small undertone that this is especially valuable for advertisers. Companies don’t want to advertise to a fake profile, and by ensuring that everyone who views their ad is a real person, makes the ads all that more valuable.

In addition to Facebook’s Terms of Use, they have a whole section dedicated to Data Use Policy (probably mandated by that settlement) that describes in detail of all of the different ways Facebook can use your data. Some of the most eye-catching are:

We receive data about you whenever you interact with Facebook, such as when you look at another person’s timeline, send or receive a message, search for a friend or a Page, click on, view or otherwise interact with things, use a Facebook mobile app…We receive data whenever you visit a game, application, or website that uses Facebook Platform or visit a site with a Facebook feature…

While this is not surprising given Facebook’s role, it is surprising how Facebook is able to obtain data from so many different sources. In fact, Facebook is not the only website that does this. Any link on most websites usually sends information to servers indicating that this particular user in this area of the world clicked on this particular link at this particular time. Facebook is not the exception (more on this next week).

 

So after going through Facebook’s Terms of Use and Data Use Policy, nothing particularly egregious comes out. Facebook can use any information posted on their site for any reason at all unless deleted, and needs people’s real names to preserve the integrity of the site. Compared with the Terms of Service a few years ago, this is definitely an improvement, but it does reveal what Facebook is allowed to do with your data.

Facebook’s Default Privacy Settings

So we’ve talked a lot about Facebook’s much balleyhooed changes to its privacy policy and the way it lets users control what other users see. Facebook wants a certain type of user (one would think one that shares everything with the world), and probably sets settings that would create that kind of environment as the new user’s default.

I created a new Facebook account just for this purpose: lets step through and see what Facebook has set as its defaults.

Continue reading

Facebook Stalking or Facebook’s Stalking?

It’s almost become natural for me. Whenever I open my Google Chrome, I click the address bar, type “f”, and hit enter. Chrome automatically fills in my most visited site, facebook.com, and sends me there. And before you make any judgment on whether or not that action is justified or not, there are plenty of good reasons why people today need Facebook.

Remember when Facebook was nothing but people’s profiles and a wall? Today’s Facebook has become so much more. From News Feed to Facebook Video Chat, the company has constantly updated their product in such a way to attract more users: by making Facebook more and more useful for everyone. And as Facebook becomes more useful, the less it can be regarded as a time-waster—a frivolous website unnecessary for any productive work. A number of recently introduced tools actually make Facebook somewhat necessary in today’s world: Messages, Groups, Photos, etc. (One could also argue that the world has just evolved to rotate around Facebook, but that’s another discussion entirely.)

As Facebook’s usefulness grows, so will concerns about privacy. No longer can you join a group at Princeton University, without providing to Facebook your Princeton email address and netID. You can’t utilize any of Facebook’s offers without revealing to Facebook what you enjoy buying. You can’t even stalk another person without letting Facebook know that you’re interested in knowing more about that person. (Try it yourself: go view the Timeline of a friend you don’t see on your News Feed, then see how often his/her posts show up.)

And to take it to another level, some of Facebook’s options are made to purposefully “stalk” you.

Who has ever used any of Facebook’s mobile apps to post a status or reply to a message? If so, you may have unwittingly revealed your location to the company. Sure, this problem can be solved by turning off Facebook’s ability to access your location, but for the legions of people in the world who don’t know how to do so, they are essentially allowing Facebook to track their movements around the globe.

 

Note the “Princeton” in the bottom left corner of the text box.

Note the “near Princeton, NJ.”

Of course, this was all a part of Facebook’s plan. They want you to use their service, to give information to them. How many study groups have been formed on Facebook’s servers; how many conversations have been conducted over Messages; how many check-ins has Facebook gotten you to willingly share with them?

By marrying a useful tool with a privacy invading default option, Facebook knows what it’s doing. And Facebook knows that its tools are too useful for the mass majority of users such that most will not leave the site, no matter what they do. The burden is placed on the user to carefully control his/her privacy while also taking advantage of everything Facebook has to offer them. And so far, this only applies to what a user posts about himself; it does not even cover any other things one’s friends may do. It comes close to being an evil diabolical plot to track and dominate the lives of everyone in the world, except for Facebook’s promise to keep all of the information private. (Sidenote: At least it’s better than China’s state-approved 人人网.)

Thus, the next time you go and stalk someone else on Facebook, just remember that Facebook is stalking you right back.