Cool Cynics Complain About Facebook Furor

Those who have a stake in pumping up the Web 2.0 bubble are feigning incredulity regarding the growing furor over Facebook’s privacy-eviscerating Beacon advertising system. Their pose is to look like cool cynics, wondering what the rest of us possibly could have expected of a social-networking site whose entire business model rests of making money from advertising.

A good example of the real-world cynical posture is evinced by Paul Kedrosky:

I’m trying really hard to care about this whole Facebook Beacon imbroglio — the social network launched a new advertising-ish service whereby your friends could see what you had recently bought, and then privacy advocates promptly lost their minds — and I can’t seem to find the energy to get worked up.

C’mon, it isn’t surprising Facebook wants to make money on its social network service via your purchase data. If you don’t like the way it wants to do it, don’t use the service. Getting hung up on whether the service was supposed to be opt-in, opt-out, etc., strikes me as largely beside the point: this is the sort of thing you should be expecting from a commercial social network.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but Kedrosky seems to be saying that we should also expect social-networking sites to deceive, dissemble, prevaricate, and betray the trust of their users, too. I’m not sure anybody who signed up for Facebook knew that the site would unveil a service as ethically challenged, socially irresponsible, or morally unconscionable as Beacon, which essentially transforms Facebook’s subscribers into unwitting, unpaid shills for products and services with which they might or might not want to be publicly associated.

I don’t object to the open, straightforward advertising-powered business model of Google. What Google does is convert its search users and other site visitors into a market for advertising, some of which are targeted according to demographics, geography, and other user data Google collects online. What Google has not done, covertly or otherwise, is throw its site visitors’ privacy completely under the bus as Facebook’s Beacon incontrovertibly does. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Facebook commits this offense dishonestly, refusing to come clean with its users (and the business media and trade press) as to whether Beacon is an opt-in or opt-out service.

I’m totally in favor of entrepreneurialism and capitalism. I just don’t think you need to be dishonest with your clientele about how you leverage them in the pursuit of riches. Have we reached a point in the socio-economic sphere where it’s too much to ask our business class not to be complete pricks in the way they exploit consumers?

I hope not. I still think businesses can be accountable, responsible, and at least somewhat ethical in their treatment of the public. What’s more, they owe it to consumers to make the effort.

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