Rage against the dying of the Facebook protest

Facebook came up in conversation over dinner with a group of friends from university. We all attended McGill between 2004 and 2008, and we entered university at exactly the same time that Facebook began to be available outside of those first Ivy League schools, the first Canadian school they expanded to being McGill.

In a sense, we're Facebook veterans. We remember before liking, before fan pages, before grown-ups or high school kids could have profiles. We remember when the Wall was anonymous, when you logged in at http://www.thefacebook.com and all the many upsets of Facebook design changes.

And so it's now that I am beginning to worry, now when the flames of fury that we felt about every minute change have finally died down. Resignedly, we discussed the new features of the site ("why can't they stay the same? it worked fine!"), and trotted out the same tired "I'm seriously thinking of committing Facebook suicide." lines. But whereas we once complained about the privacy policy and the Beacon advertising system, we now bemoan the sorting of the News Feed or the 'comment by hitting enter' aspect.

Similarly, this Techcrunch article outlines a handful of concerns Orli Yakuel has with Facebook redesigns, but, as with my friends, the concerns are with cosmetic changes, not the privacy issues or data-mining tactics Facebook is angling to implement. There's a reason for this:

As opposed to Google, who just put a post at the top of my email saying they are going to start personalizing ads better (whatever that means), Facebook doesn't alert its users when the times are a-changing. They have already rolled out a new advertising tactic to a select group of users. This will personalize ads, which will appear as immediate responses to keywords extracted from users status updates. I'm sure this is mentioned in a Facebook blog post, there's no alert to the general populace, and this is already live (albeit only to a small percentage of people)! While other controversial privacy-related changes such as Beacon and the Newsfeed were simultaneously design changes, data-mining takes place utterly under the radar of cosmetic change.

In other words, we can't protest what we don't know about.

Worse still, we can't protest what we don't think about, and that's my secondary concern, because maybe we won't even notice once they do unveil the status update advertising, or whatever comes after that. The ads on Facebook take a LOT of repeating for me to notice them, so I can easily imagine it taking weeks or months before I finally looked at one and saw it recommending Brooklyn pizza moments after I posted about eating pizza in New York. This slow seep-in of consciousness of the intelligence of the advertising will make it that much harder to fight. And I think that's something to fight about.

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