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Did you hear that Facebook is scanning your private messages to better target ads to you? At least, that's what the latest class action lawsuit against the social media giant is alleging. While Facebook denies the claims, doesn't it just sound like something the 'book would do? It does have a history of flagrantly walking all over its users's privacy.
And there certainly have been other times when Facebook caused its users to go bonkers with outrage and threats to quit sharing their lives on the public forum. Each instance of outrage led to campaigns and petitions (shared and spread via Facebook, natch) that tried to rally people to pledge to never use the service again, unless the changes were rolled back. And, each time, nothing ever came of it because most of us are just too darn invested in SongPop / Farmville / Candy Crush / pictures with hilarious captions, etc. to give up the service. Face it, despite its trespasses on our privacy and good faith, Facebook continues to be a juggernaut of social media (or maybe a black hole), from which no one can escape. In the past 10 years, these have been its major offenses:
When Facebook announced that Timeline, a new way of viewing your personal "wall," was about to be forced upon all users, there was outrage. "But I don't want things to change!" we complained. "Why should my posts be organized clearly and chronologically?!" we raged. Of course, Timeline also made previously-hidden things public and that was a bit of a nuisance, but Facebook gave us seven days to adjust our settings ... but, seriously, who could be bothered to review all their posts? Anyway, in the end, like the over-sharing sheep that we are, we gave up complaining about it and now, two years later, no one can even remember what their homepage used to look like, nor what made it "better" than Timeline.
April 2012 & December 2012
Facebook bought Instagram in April 2012 (for $1 billion) and fans of the food-picture service lost their minds! "NOOOOOO! Zuckerberg is going to ruin it!" Of course, Facebook didn't change anything and the service is still the place to go for filtered photos of your friends' pets and city skylines.
But then, in December 2012, Instagram unveiled new terms of service that, essentially said, "We own all your photos and can use them for advertising without paying you." Though it was probably nothing more than some legal eagle over-lawyering the wording, Facebook re-edited Instagram's ToS to not sound so super-scary (though we're pretty sure the new wording allows the app the same latitude, just without the frightening overtness of the original).
The internet went nuts after a Facebook user was shown an ad for "hot singles in his area." While not unusual, a) He was married and b) the ad features an image of his wife! "Facebook is using our faces to sell ads!" went out the battle cry. Turns out, yes, Facebook does stipulate, in its terms of service, that it can link your face with an advertiser's product ... but only ones a user "likes" or talks about.
Does this mean that the married man from the above story was "caught" philandering? Nope. That advertiser was breaking the rules and using images outside of the terms, so the company was banned. Still, we now know that Facebook can plaster our face next to an ad that says, "So-And-So likes Bounty Paper Towels!" and we need to be ok with that. (Or, opt out by going to the "Ads" section of your privacy controls and choose "no one" under "Ads and Friends.")
Opting out of ads does not mean you have opted out of Sponsored Stories in which companies pay to post information from a user, like a "like" or comment, and place it in a more prominent position ... like the sidebar, where the ads appear. Again, these are completely not like ads. (Mainly because it's all information that your friends could see anyway, but that companies have paid to ensure your friends see it. Interestingly, the main thrust of the freak-out over Sponsored Stories wasn't so much that Facebook was doing it — I guess we'd gotten used to the company violating our privacy by this point — but that Facebook wasn't cutting users in on the profits!
The most recent annoying thing Facebook has implemented? Video ads that auto-play. The revolt, as best we can tell, is supported by people who don't want annoying ads distracting them from reading their Facebook feeds ... which, in turn, is nothing more than a distraction from doing real work. To sum up: Facebook as a distraction: Good. Ads as a distraction from the distraction that is Facebook: Bad.
The main outrage here is that Facebook, being a non-restrictive canvas for as many characters as you'd like to type (even though we wish some people's feeds did have such a restriction), doesn't need such shorthand devices. Why write #political when you can say "I'm making a political statement" or jot #lol when, instead, you can clarify with "I'm clearly joking, you guys!"? Plus, Facebook is a mostly private forum, so why would we want our posts discoverable by a hashtag? Twitter uses hashtags for discoverability. We already have enough Facebook friends, thanks, we don't need more people discovering us. The only good thing that has come out of Facebook #hashtags is this delightful FAQ page called How Do I Use Hashtags?. To the Millennial set, this is like putting instructions on a toothbrush.
[Ed. note: "We" in this case refers to the writer alone. Please feel free to follow DealNews on Facebook all you want!]
November 2012 & December 2013
A couple of years ago, folks who ran Facebook Pages noticed that only about 16% of their fans were seeing any of their posts at one time. Since Facebook offers Promoted Posts (paid posts that reach a wider audience) the conspiracy theory was that Facebook started throttling Page posts to boost sales. According to Facebook, Page posts never reached 100% of anyone's audience and the 16% number is just what happens when you don't' have a rapt audience who reads every single thing on Facebook 24/7/365.
But the fact remains that the social network does filter a user's news feed! In the same way that a truly random iTunes playlist doesn't sound random, a truly unfiltered feed just looks weird and is filled with spam. But just last December Facebook implemented even more filtering, so that users see more relevant news and fewer memes. This caused the inevitable resurfacing of the "Let me decide what's 'important'" argument/outrage ... but, secretly we're a little happy that Facebook is trying to class up the place a bit!
In what seemed like a move to compete with FourSquare, Facebook rolled out its check-in functionality called Places. Immediately, people were upset because users were allowed to check their friends into places too. Told your boss you were sick? Hope your friend doesn't tag you at Citi Field, as your location will pop up on your Timeline! Of course, after a while we learned not to hang out with that friend, and we enabled "Timeline Review" so we could head that kind of thing off, too. All in all the outrage over this feature went away as anger turned into acceptance. Kübler-Ross would be proud how quickly it happened, too.
Then there was the time Facebook allowed select websites to push user activity directly onto the user's news feed without permission. Yep, whatever a user did on eBay, Fandango, Blockbuster, Hotwire, NYTimes, Overstock, Seamless, Sony, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Zappos, and 32 other sites was automatically posted to Facebook. What fun! I don't think we need to explain why this was outrageous, but it's nice to know that Facebook doesn't allow this kind of thing anymore; after a huge class action lawsuit Facebook was forced to set up a $6 million fund to support and promote online privacy. In 2011, CEO Mark Zuckerberg referred to Beacon as a "mistake."
Facebook Groups are fine and dandy for knitting circles, but some problems can arise when they reach the fringe. "I see you're a member of the National Let's Eat Babies Movement," says a potential employer during your job interview. To prove how detrimental Facebook Groups can be, Jason Calacanis and Michael Arrington (big names in the blogosphere) added CEO Mark Zuckerberg to a pedophilia group, but all Zuckerberg did was unsubscribe from the group. (And, in doing so, prevented Arrington from adding him to any further groups, as is Facebook's policy.) Nothing about Facebook Groups has really changed; we all have just learned to not be friends with people want to add us to horrible groups "as a joke."
These have just been 10 big instances where Facebook annoyed its user base, but, really people freak out whenever there's even the slightest change to the service ... and, yet, we just keep using it! People just like to grouse and complain, but in the long run we can't seem to give up our addiction to snooping just a little bit into our friends' lives. And that's why Facebook will continue to push the privacy envelope
Are you outraged by Facebook?! Can you recount a time when it was the worst? Tell us in the comments below! For our part, we'll be outraged — and threaten to quit Facebook — if you guys don't like and/or share this post on your Timelines!