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Fellow Facebook Users: We are the product Zuckerberg sells.

Identity, Privacy
Author: Mark Dixon
Friday, December 2, 2011
5:08 pm

In my recent post, I made this observation:

[Facebook and Google] are essentially advertising channels, whose real customers are not those of us who visit their sites, but the advertisers who pay them money.

That is where Intent comes in.  The most valuable commodity Google and Facebook can sell to their advertising customers is the Intent of the people who visit their sites – the Intent to explore, to examine, and ultimately, to buy. The better either company can be at determining the Intent of their users, the better they are prepared to rake in the bucks from companies who advertise with them.

From that perspective, I have been fascinated by the recent big news that Facebook has settled charges with the FTC over charges the Facebook deceived users about privacy. As reported by the Daily Beast,

… Facebook promises to stop making “deceptive privacy claims” and get users’ permission before changing the way it shares their information. The social-media company must also submit to privacy audits for 20 years. …

Acknowledging this settlement, Mark Zuckerberg posted a lengthy statement on the Facebook blog:

… I’m the first to admit that we’ve made a bunch of mistakes. In particular, I think that a small number of high profile mistakes, like Beacon four years ago and poor execution as we transitioned our privacy model two years ago, have often overshadowed much of the good work we’ve done. … But we can also always do better. I’m committed to making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy. …

Not all pundits accepted Zuckerberg’s contrite response.  Dan Lyons of the Daily Beast posted a cynical article entitled, “The Truth About Facebook Privacy—if Zuckerberg Got Real.”

The social network just settled privacy charges with the FTC, and its CEO posted a lengthy non-apology on the company blog. But here’s what Mark Zuckerberg might have said if he dared to be brutally honest. …

Let’s skip to the meat of Dan’s article (his view of what an truly candid Zuckerberg would have said:

 … The truth is, we have no interest in protecting your privacy, and if you still believe that we do, then you are stupider than we thought, and believe me, we already thought you were pretty stupid. Think about it. The only way our business works is if we can track what you do and sell that information to advertisers. Did you honestly not realize that?

You are not our customer. You are the product that we sell. For us to say we’re going to protect you is like the poultry industry promising to create more humane living conditions for chickens. Sure, they say that. But you know they don’t mean it.

Same with us. We will never, ever stop trying to pry data out of you. How could we? We’re a business. We’re doing this to make money. And our investors would like it very much if we can make absolutely as much money as possible. It’s simply not in our nature to stop. You know the fable about the scorpion and the frog? Yeah. It’s like that. …

Pretty harsh? Yep! But there are glimmers of truth in there. Just remember the next time you visit Facebook (which I have already done several times already today), “You are the product that we sell.”

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