Facebook: More Frightening by the Day

Well, Facebook has taken another shiver-inducting step towards becoming Big Brother, folks.

Just a few hours ago, a news item was pasted on my (and all of the other estimated 50 million-plus Facebook users) News Feed, the creepy log on the welcome screen that tells you all about what your friends have been up to.

“Facebook has launched some new products,” it says. So, ever curious, I clicked. After all, last time it mentioned something about new products, it notified me of the creation of the Video application, which allowed me to finally give my homemade video of elephants parading across Midtown Manhattan to “New York, New York” the exposure it deserved.

But what I saw filled me with a bit of dread. Right near the top, one sentence caught my eye:

“We believe we’ve created a system where ads are more relevant and actually enhance Facebook.”

Uh-oh. Whenever somebody tells me they’ve found a way for advertising to make my life better, I start programming the local NPR affiliate’s pledge drive number into my cell phone.

“Ads will be getting more relevant and more interesting to you,” it went on. “Instead of random messages from advertisers, we’ve launched Social Ads. Social Ads provide advertisements alongside related actions your friends have taken on the site.

“These actions may be things like “Leah is now a fan of The Offspring” (if I added The Offspring to my music) or “Justin wrote a review for Sushi Hut” (If Justin wrote this review on the Sushi Hut page). These actions could then be paired with an ad that either The Offspring or Sushi Hut provides.”

So, to simplify: Facebook will now monitor your interests and your actions, then take advantage of your relationships with people to imply your endorsement of a product.

Is it me, or does this seem to be a new level of weirdness even for Facebook?

I’ve never been particularly fond of the way Facebook seems to be trampling down conventional methods of societal interaction among people in my age group. Only ten years ago, meeting one of your friends you hadn’t seen in a while would be a chance to catch up. Now, no matter where your friends might be, you know where they are, what they’re doing, where they’re working, who they’re dating, who wishes they were dating them, what they do on their nights out, their daily fart output, and possibly their medical history.

And hey – you don’t even have to go to the trouble of hunting down your distant friends to find out when things change with them, because Facebook’s “Friends” section automatically brings up those who’ve updated their profiles recently and tells you what they’ve changed!

Easy enough? Of course not! For true ease-of-stalking, the site posts the recent activity of your friends on your home page for whenever you log on. Want to know if someone broke up with her boyfriend? What one friend said to another? What events they’re going to, what movies they’ve discovered, who has a birthday coming up, what political candidates they support? You don’t need to even search for it. Everything you do on Facebook is visible to everyone else.

And with another new creation, everything you do off of it can be seen now, too.

“You now have the option to bring actions you take outside of Facebook back in. Just as Facebook shares your on-site interactions with your friends through News Feed, we now give you an option to let News Feed share your off-site actions with your friends as well.”

That way, all your friends can see just how truly exciting your life is. For example, they can see that you rented “The Notebook” from Blockbuster’s website, snapped up a six-pack of Kleenex with aloe on Drugstore.com, grabbed a big bag of Skittles from DCSnacks.com, then purchased “How to Get a Guy in 10 Days” on Amazon.

Or they can watch as you buy three bottles of cheap wine, Barry White’s Greatest Hits, and a 12-pack of Trojan Lubricated in preparation for that “old friend” who’s visiting from another school – whose visit, by the way, everyone already knows about, because she wrote on your ‘wall’ about it.

Facebook sees all. Facebook knows all. Facebook is watching.


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