All Eyes On Facebook

Marketers and academic types are watching you.

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[ Social Media]

Facebookers have made quite a stink about lack of privacy on Facebook, especially when it comes to what information appears in their news feeds. But marketers aren’t the only ones mining this unprecedented access to personal relationships; academic types are too.

Hundreds of thousands of users voiced their concern when Facebook introduced its news feeds, which automatically posted changes to members made to their profile. They complained even though the information published via the feed was generally "public" information.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, that there was another uproar (strangely, though, with fewer voices) over Beacon, which published what Facebook users were purchasing on other sites without express permission to do so.

The fact is that Facebook is a consumer data goldmine, and users are increasingly coming to grips with that. It makes one wonder though, how they feel about silent observers who glean that data for scientific purposes – even if the data is public.

According to the New York Times, researchers at Harvard and UCLA are monitoring an entire class of college students as they pursue "one of the Holy Grails of social science": whether personal taste determines friendships, or the other way around.

Studying the Web 2.0 phenomenon seems to be a growing trend. A California school introduced YouTube 101 this year, to get a better feel for social media and its impact on society.

The beauty of the information available via social networks and/or social media is that it provides a truly unintrusive way of observing human behavior. "Unintrusive" in the sense that the researcher doesn’t interfere with the subjects, but the subjects may not like it that they’re being watched.   

A critic might be right to note, as many did when Facebookers protested the introduction of the Facebook News Feed, that if users don’t want to be spied on, they should consider making their profiles private. Otherwise, everything you do there is a bit like mooning a TV camera. It doesn’t really make sense to shout at the medium, then, for broadcasting it.

Like Girls Gone Wild flashers, they’re just giving away the goods.

I wonder though, if academic studies of online social networking give a true glimpse of human relationships. That "Holy Grail" they’re speaking of seems to be only an insight into how humans behave online, sans the regulatory functions of the orbitofrontal cortex (the part of the brain that makes you be polite) and the incentive to be genuinely you.

It seems a study of human behavior would bring results that measure how human avatars behave instead. 

All Eyes On Facebook
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  • http://www.whoishenry.com Henry Griner

    I find it very interesting that someone posting anything on the Internet, be it on a Blog, personal web page, company staff profile, MySpace or Facebook, would turn around and complain about lack of privacy. The reality is that apart from information shielded within a membership website or a secured website with limited access, your information is there for the world to see almost forever.

    I have talked with managers in H.R. departments that tell me they now “Google” a persons name just to see what they can find out about them. Of course, this may not result in finding information that is specific to the person they are interested in especially with more common names, but it can at times prove helpful if not just a little interesting.

    Working as an Internet Marketing Technology Consultant I teach people how to use the tools available to build their online home based businesses. Facebook and other Web 2.0 sites are places where relationships can be established and built to help build a business. Those that try to “Hard Sell” members in these communities are going at it all wrong.

    Bottom line. If you don’t want the universe to know something about you, don’t post anything online with your real name or photos that include you. If you do, don’t cry about “Big Brother” watching.

    Henry Griner
    Technology Consultant

    • http://tothefuturewithlove.net deni

      The question is not to post or not to post, because Internet is integrating with our society more and more and it’s not really an option to stay away of it. And this is normal.

      The question is what to post.

      Meaning, Internet for a long while was a place where one can be completely free and do and say whatever he/she really pleases. And not pretend to be someone else.

      Now people become aware they are not invincible or invisible even in the Net. There are two ways to see this: a) you hate it, because it threatens your freedom and you find a way to fight it-either trough indignation or just hiding better or b) you accept it and admit that change in your life- that you no longer have to fight and hide yourself, because no matter what you are, you’re personality deserves to be seen and appreciated (if it’s harmless to other people, of course).

      Now, for me it’s more or less the second, though I must admit I wouldn’t feel comfortable if my professor finds my talks about sex or stuff.

      But then, it’s natural! Our life includes all of it, then why we should be ashamed of it?

      Now, for me there is one key moment. That information is free and available but any study on it, should be with the subject’s agreement. And all those networks should include an opt-in opt-out feature that will inform the user that his/her information is available and whether that user is agree that it could be used for science, market or whatever.

      I’m not sure how we can prevent desperate marketers to search trough social sites, but it’s one to do it personally and other thing to do it professionally on large scale.

      Such behaviour is easy to spot and should be controlled by the social network and should be subject to laws and limitations. Same goes for any other researches. The network should provide info about you only with your consent. And this we must fight for!

      Yes, if you blog, you share your personality as you like for everyone to see. But in FaceBook or Myspace you do not. You’re there for the fun. You’re there to contact another people on so many levels of contact. And that’s exactly why your privacy should be respected. What we say or publish about us is act of our will, how we interact with other people is more a reaction to the situation (which includes both online and off-line factors and the second are rarely known) and thus should not and could not be used as a measure for our personality.




    • http://www.propdata.co.za Robert Cerff

      I couldn’t agree more Henry. Too long many have been paranoid about “Big Brother” watching them. But lets face it… Big Brother has known about you since conception! Deal with it.

      But as you quite rightly pointed out, if you post something online and people find it, don’t cry about it. If sensitive material that you never posted was being shared… then you have a real issue.

      I don’t ever really foresee any of these social networks becoming secure enough for anyone to be confident that what they post will only be seen by a selected few, or even just for archive purposes.

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