Social network giant Facebook is facing more legal action from the European Commission for "eavesdropping" on its users to gather information about their political opinions, sexuality, religious beliefs, and where they are in the world. The European Commission plans to stop the way Facebook and other like networks track peoples information and makes it readily available to advertisers.
In the latest European Commission dirtive that is set to be introduced in January, it will ban targeted ads to users unless the user specifically allows it. If this new legislation is passed it would mean that every time Facebook doesn't comply it would face substantial fines as well as serious legal action.
This move comes at a time when Facebook is rumored to be nearing its IPO in 2012. This would mean that Facebook has to find a different advertising model, not to mention a totally new way to make money in order attract new investors.
What is the European Commission worried about?
Facebook stores everything.
- If you like something on Facebook, it is tracked.
- If you send a message to a friend and delete it a week later, it's still stored and tracked.
- If you instant message an old co-worker using the Facebook Chat feature, this information is stored and tracked even after your finish your conversation.
- If you put that you are a Republican and then change it to Independent a year later, this is tracked.
Everything you do is tracked. Facebook says this information isn't used in advertising, so why do they still keep this information if they don't need it?
To expand on how much information Facebook stores on its users is made avaliable by a 24 year old Austrian student Max Schrems. He contacted Facebook and asked how much information they had about him.
Upon further investigation, Schrems' requests led him to the site sending him a CD with 1,222 pages of data that Facebook had collected about him. He later complained because the social networking site was retaining information about him that were not covered in their disclosures.
Next week the European Commission, The UK Information Commissioner and others will meet to discuss the "state of play" regarding Facebook and what is to be done. Users on Facebook, whether they know it or not, have agreed to let Facebook use their data in any way they want. You can view this 4,000+ word contract by clicking on the Terms button at the bottom of every page on Facebook. Facebook explains how it tracks users and what information it allows Advertisers to see. Is this ethical what they are doing?
"Facebook should ensure that any data it collects should be used in the manner that its users expect," a spokesman for the UK Information Commissioner said. "If personal data is being passed on to a third party or used for targeted advertising then this should be made clear to the user when they sign up to the site and reinforced when users are invited to use an application."
Facebook responded by saying advertisers only see "anonymous and aggregate information" that will allow them to target the masses and not an individual users. Though this is true you can dumb it down to pretty much an individual.
I personally do a lot of advertising of Facebook, you can read about all the different ways to target on Facebook here. You can pretty much drill it down to individual users, though Facebook will tell you that it's "fewer than 20 users."
Basically what this means is that Facebook advertisers can't exactly target a single user on Facebook. Advertisers can however spell out a very detailed description of the exact person they want to reach.
You can target down to age, location, family background, language, and precise interests. You can even target a person working at a specific workplace or organization without a college degree. You can pretty much advertise to you specifically. I love this option because it allows me to target just the CEO of a company if I know enough information about him.
A spokesperson from the social network said "We understand that people share a lot of information on Facebook and we take this very seriously. We believe ads that are relevant, social and personalized based on your real interests are better. We can show relevant ads in a way that respects individual privacy because our system only provides advertisers with anonymous and aggregate information for the purpose of targeting ads."
I would like to know from the readers out there, is this ethical for Facebook be able to do? Should Facebook be allowed to do this or should there be privacy concerns with this?