Sunday, October 26, 2008

Person of Consequence is .

I was just a few websites down, playing with my Facebook account, when my attention was drawn to the plethora of Facebook ads available at the click of a mouse. Now, even prior to this, I knew on some level that, as nice as Facebook is, it isn't connecting me with family and friends out of the goodness of its own heart. But it's still kind of disturbing to how specific these ads are. 13 of the ads tell me that I could easily meet single women, which means they're mining my gender and relationship status. (At least, I'm assuming that they're using my relationship status. I could change the status and find out, but that would result in a lot of unnecessary 'xplain' to do within my Friendlist.)
There's an ad for Arrested Development t-shirts. Does that imply reading my Favorite TV shows list, or does it appear for everyone?
Many of the personals ads are Canadian-centric and another asks whether I am smarter than Steven Harper. (He's at 131, btw. Which is respectable, and certainly more than the "beat George Bush" ads you see everywhere.) So they're using my nationality.
Most disturbing are the ads targetted directly to residents of the city of ____________. It's a level of such specialization that I half-expect someone to come knocking on my door at any moment and offer my facebook account car insurance. (And that's where your wrong, faceless Facebook ad company! I don't even own a car!)
To further investigate this issue, I tried to make my own Facebook ad, which is ridiculously easy, as it turns out. All you need is a pre-existing account and a website and you pay a fee each time someone clicks on your ad. Facebook also includes a lot of helpful hints to writing a successful ad (and what it will accept); you can't use misleading images, you can't put WORDS IN CAPITALS or use Words That Aren't meant to be capitalized, for example. And you can't be derogatory towards your customers--no "you're fat, lose weight." It seems Facebook's looking at the big picture; no alienating the audience base.
Then there were the targetting choices. According to facebook, location is determined by IP address. And it does indeed choose ads based on profile keywords like "TV Shows." Other factors include gender, gender preference, relationship status, universities, jobs, even university majors. You use a "bid" to determine how much you're willing to pay per click or per view (in US currency), and the maximum amount per day.
Incidentally, according to Facebook, an ad that appears on every Facebook profile of Canadians 13+ will hit over 10 million people. According to the CIA (because who knows better than the public access portion of the CIA website?), Canada has about 33 million people (and covers an area "somewhat larger than the US" in a "strategic location between Russia and US". Try not to spend too much time thinking about what the CIA means by "strategic," there.), so that's a very sizable amount of our population using Facebook. And opening themselves up as key demographics.
(ASIDE: I was going to put CIA on my labels for this entry, but I really don't want to end up any scary lists. You heard it here first people: even after spending the last hour investigating their ad policies, Facebook is still more trustworthy than the US government.)
According to one of the papers the blog class has read recently, Facebook is trusted highly by its users, more so than, say, MySpace. But how much trust does it really deserve, when it was willing to let me and my fake ad utilize its profiles? Sure, it didn't provide access to any specific individuals, but if it's willing to let Joe Blow and his website take advantage of its system, how much would it take to divulge more info?
And if that's what Facebook is willing to do, who knows who is getting your Blogger data?
And with that thought, be sure to post those comments, people!

Providing that no one arrives in the next 24 hours to take me away in their discreet, unmarked van,
Later Days.

1 comment:

Kate said...

Facebook just gets scarier and scarier. Even people who aren't on Facebook, like Geof, get quasi-signed up by well-meaning friends who give Facebook their emails, and then sends facebook messages to everyone the initial well-meaning friend indicates might know the person, suggesting they pester the person to join. Resistance is futile.

Word verification: "porses". That has got to be a real word, somehow.