Privacy vs profit at Facebook

Facebook`s evolution from online club house to Internet powerhouse is raising fears that the social network is trading privacy for profit.

Updated: May 02, 2010, 10:13 AM IST

San Francisco: Facebook`s evolution from online club house to Internet powerhouse is raising fears that the social network is trading privacy for profit.

The California company`s recent move to become omnipresent with software "plug-ins" that let people`s online communities follow them to any website is the latest iteration
to raise hackles of privacy advocates.

When Facebook users visit websites with "open graph" plug-ins, on-screen windows show which friends from the social network have gone to those pages and what they had to say about them.

While Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg touted the
change as part of an inevitable shift to personalised and
social online experiences some see it as creepy.

"The Web is at a really important turning point right
now," Zuckerberg said while announcing the revamped platform
at an f8 developers conference in San Francisco on April 21.

"We are building toward a Web where the default is
social."

Privacy advocates maintain that Facebook is betraying
members drawn to the service as a way to privately share their
lives with friends.

"This is a transition from pretty good privacy to
Facebook making categories of information available to
construct business deals," said attorney Kurt Opsahl of
Internet rights defence group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"It seems that they want to go to sites and say `We
have this treasure trove of user information, what do you
have?`," he continued.

The online social network that boasts more than 400
million members worldwide started in 2004 as a way for college
friends to stay in tune with each other.

As Facebook`s popularity soared it came under pressure
to make money.

A Beacon advertising system that automatically shared
Facebook users` online purchases with the website was
abandoned after outrage about intrusion on privacy.

"It seems like this is the new and improved Facebook
Beacon," Electronic Privacy Information Centre staff counsel
Ginger McCall said of the open graph.

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"It was very much built on `Here is this thing your
friend liked, maybe you would like this too.`"

Facebook executives were adamant that this isn`t a
money grab, saying they built no revenue component into the
open graph platform.

The website`s online advertising model is expected to
generate more cash as Facebook becomes a bigger part of
people`s lives.

PTI