Episode 28 - Facebook

(If you have not subscribed to the podcast already, you can listen to the mp3 here or read the text below. There are some great tunes on the podcast though..)

Facebook - innocent social networking website, or high tech spy network?

The web is generational, progressive. We have truly hit web 2.0. Nowadays we acquire our social-technological skills through the internet, less face-to-face and much more face-to-screen. At school I talked and wrote letters. At Uni and the following years spent traveling, it was email. More recently it is mobile phone, email, text, i.m., forums and v.o.i.p.

Most, if not all of my friends today remain proficient at email, IM and mobile phone use. Those old friends that aren't have turned into acquaintances and some have slipped right out of sight. That rings true for some family too.

It is not uncommon for today’s 13-year-old to be communicating through gaming channels, blog comments, text messages, photo messages, mobile phones, v.o.i.p, twitter and a host of others I have yet to discover. Some of these social trends are adopted almost instantly and, virus-like cross age groups and social networks. Those involved now learn newer and easier ways of getting through to their lattice of digitally minded acquaintances.

This is old news to most of the people I communicate with, as many in my social-technological circles are old hands at all these methods and are ready to grab hold of any new techno-fad that hits their screens.

So what's really new? Well at the moment I have found myself sucked into the virtual world of facebook. Kind of a myspace for the more discerning web networker. I finally found myself giving in to the incessant barrage of facebook requests from friends that could quite easily email me, and partly though a feeling of inadequacy when people say.. Oh you don't have a Facebook account?"

Well now I do and if I thought Googles data mining activities were overt, nothing could have prepared me for Facebook. I guess all this has been a roundabout way of trying to say Facebook owns YOU. Perhaps not in physical form but as far as your virtual online life goes (and lord knows that is the largest portion of our waking lives now-a-days) Facebook owns the data, use patterns, preferences, communications and adoption trends of the entire next web generation. What’s more, the data acquired through all of your innocent online ramblings is incredibly clean, trustworthy, and as collated as any marketer could dream of.

But it's not just all marketing, there's something much more sinister in Facebook's digital files. Facebook owns the data of the first generation to live their entire lives online, a generation that will spend their lives studying and trying to get to grips with the world and its intricacies. Do I, already in my thirties, feel a generation chasm opening up between me and all those to follow?

This is all different to Google’s data collection techniques. If google takes its time behind the scenes sorting through your Google mail, blogs and web searches to profile you, Facebook is straight in there, offering you convenient little white boxes for you to fill in all of your little secrets, your hearts desires and any other personal info you may whisper a friend.

If a man in a dark suit arrived at your door unannounced asking for your name, date of birth, marital status, name of partner, political view, religious persuasion, address, phone number, details of all of your friends, lists of the kind of books you read and films you watch, poems you have written, a few diary entries and - to top it all - wanted a selection of photos with descriptions of all those in the pictures, would you busy yourself providing a shoe box with all this handy information in so he could take it away?

No? I wouldn't ether. I’d at least ask him who he was and what he wanted it for. If his answer was something about being a multinational corporation worth billions of dollars, and that he wanted to help you make friends and keep those that are your friends informed of what you are up to, would that make you any more likely to hand over your life details to him?

It’s absurd on so many levels and yet, en mass we seem to blindly offer ourselves up on a plate. The only difference is we have not been able to look these guys in their collective faces. And has anyone actually bothered to read the small print, the details in which the devil lives? Here is an extract of the first page of the many paged terms and conditions.

"All content on the Site and available through the Service, including but not limited to designs, text, graphics, pictures, video, information, applications, software, music, sound and other files, and their selection and arrangement (the "Site Content"), are the proprietary property of the Company"

Just in case that statement wasn't clear and frightening enough. I’ll put in another, long extract. If you can’t be bothered to read it, it can be summarized thus: “I hereby surrender all rights of ownership, control and use of everything I’ve posted on Facebook.” In legal jargon, that looks like this:

"When you post User Content to the Site, you authorize and direct us to make such copies thereof as we deem necessary in order to facilitate the posting and storage of the User Content on the Site. By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing. You may remove your User Content from the Site at any time. If you choose to remove your User Content, the license granted above will automatically expire, however you acknowledge that the Company may retain archived copies of your User Content."

You may say that this is the norm. If so, how did we let it get this way? Is our privacy worth this little? Wikipedia has a concise history and also raises the privacy issue quoting a line that has appeared in facebook's privacy agreement as stating "We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile."

Another clause that some users are critical of reserves the right to sell users' data to private companies, stating "We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship."

So in a nutshell, what are the pros and cons? Anything that fosters communication and spreads ideas has some inherent goodness. Its design makes it ridiculously easy to use and it is always good to meet new people. Combine that with the fact it is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week and you are allowed to advertise and it is hardly surprising people are flocking to use it.

With all I’ve just said regarding the terms of use and privacy, you would think this enough for people to be wary. Many are. Have look about the web and you will see more than a few concerned people, critical of Facebook.

In my opinion it’s all too easy for some people to become addicted to it, and obsessed by what is a distraction. It breeds procrastination. There is no real human interaction only odd, counterfeit relationships; people pretending to be interested in others, in the hope they collect more friends to look at their facts and figures, blogs and interests.

Also, it is open to anybody and everybody, be they sales people, government agents or stalkers. Who is really behind the icon? When communication is reduced to a few lines of text, how do we know what's really being implied? How can we really communicate?

This is all coupled with the incredible technology designed purely for extracting personal, and potentially useful information. Frankly, I can’t see why an educated and informed person would even log on.

Curiosity maybe? We’ll go ahead, sign up if you dare, but before you do, do some homework on what you’re signing up for. Take a look around the web and read some of the concerns. To save time you could just head over to my blog at www.Documentally.com and there is a whole host of links. You may even stumble apon the speculation that the C.I.A and the shadowy 'Information Awareness Office' have links to funding of Facebook.

Ultimately the decision is yours. As long as you are fully aware that in this Orwellian community all you write, post, mention, show, mail, blog and comment is fully accessible and archived by numerous people behind the scenes and you are cool with that, then no problem. I hope nothing you write comes back to haunt you.

So in answer to my question is Facebook an innocent social networking website or a state of the art intelligence gathering organisation.?

It's both.

Don't forget you can leave a comment below or email me on: podcast (@) documentlly.com failing that please feel free to skype me at Documentally...

Just please don't ask me to chat on facebook.

Many thanks to the bands Rebel Soul Band, Kundama and Anti-Flag for letting me play their great tunes.

Further reading..

The Wikipedia Entry

A short flash film

Privacy International

Another Link

News Link

More Privacy International

Common Sense

BBC news on tracking within social networking


John Buckley said...

really good post christian.. solidly written and persuasive..great job!

Anonymous said...

OK i am scared now.

Deek Deekster said...

Facebook can claim rights to my stuff all they want, but in practise (at least in Britain) they ain't got a leg to stand on, no matter what the T&C says. Still, it's a sobering argument, well put.

Anonymous said...

I think you might be a crazy communist!

Why are you so extremely suspicious?

Big corporations have done great things for us! Why do you think they would ever hurt us?

Shelley Goodman

Anonymous said...

I just found your podcast!

Well done. You have one more loyal listener.

And I refused to use Facebook before and will continue to not using it!


Christian said...

Hi Shelley,

I am glad you listened to my podcast. I have just been to your blog and am glad that after all of your posts you are still open minded enough to listen to my podcast.

In answer to your questions.. (..and no i am not a crazy communist).

The reason why i am suspicous is because anyone that isn't is a fool. In the UK in the last 10 years of Tony Blairs reign we have had over 3000 new criminal offences defined. That is one a day for his time in office.


If we don't watch these people we will have sacrificed all our liberty in the name of security.

..And as far as corporations go.. Watch the documentary 'The Corporation' and you shall see the real face behind the "Have a nice day" smile we face everyday from these selfish monsters, hell-bent on nothing but growth and domination within marketss we are told we need.

Hope that answers your questions.. :)

Thanks again for listening.

Anonymous said...

Christian (what a beautiful name, but I am afraid you are not really a Christian!)

Sorry, I am not gonna watch this kinda filth! I will spend the time in church instead! All the answer you will ever need to get are in the Good Book, you know. You should try it. Sit down, think about the Lord and the Glory of Jesus and read the Bible and all freat will vanish.

I trust the American government as well as American corporations!

You should consider having a talk with STR's own Billy Bob Neck. He is our spokesperson and he is running for president in '08. I think he will be in a position to set you straight! He has a wonderful ability to talk to mentally challenged folks.

I am going to tell you to contact ya.

God bless,
Shelley Goodman

Christian said...

Hello again Shelly,
I just can't keep you away can i? :)

I am glad you find comfort in your religion but If you would only utilize the same dedication to sitting through a whole podcast as you have done whilst reading the 'good book' then you may learn something relevant to today.

I have a terrible feeling that you may one day wake up screaming in a cold sweat as in your sleeping mind you come to realise you have not only been lied to all these years, but you also lapped it up and propagated those lies to others that previously had a feint grasp at the truth.

I seriously think you need to take a holiday, go on a trip to Europe or the Middle East and widen your horizons. A change of perspective will do you good. It may all come as a horrible shock but in the long run it will do you so much good.

You may even find it is possible to Love God and the truth at the same time.

Good Luck and thank you again for listening.. Even if it was only for a bit. :)

Anonymous said...

This threat is reminiscent of a cumulative toxin, everything's fine until you're poisoned.

Anonymous said...

You mention the CIA connection, in case you haven't already seen it you might find some of the facts behind the history, running and ownership of facebook quite interesting:


I haven't looked to verify any of the contents of that post, but it's enough to make you wonder.

Very much enjoy your podcast by the way. One of the few I've stuck with over the last year or two. Keep it up.

Ooh, I think you linked to what i linked to in your text. I listened rather than read... :)

Christian said...

Cheers Graham. Thank You for listening.. (and adding me in twitter too. :) )

James Grundy said...

WOW Christian, this has really made me think.

The music was rather cool too.

Take care