Anytime Facebook makes a site change or updates one of its mobile products, users get angry and rant about how “Facebook isn’t listening to the needs of its customers” or “How Facebook is out of touch with what its customers want”. I’m going to make a bold statement you probably won’t like but You are not Facebook’s customer, you are one of their products.
Facebook’s only goal is to monetize the social graph of its users. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how Facebook keeps the lights on. Advertisers pay the bills at Facebook and Facebook generates revenue by selling YOU. During an interesting discussion on Metafilter, one of the users (blue_beetle) said “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”.
The value of knowing you
It is important to keep in mind that everything you do on Facebook is tracked, recorded and analyzed. From profile pages you visit, to pictures you post and people you hang out with. Leveraging facial recognition, the millions of people already tagged in photos and their check-in system, Facebook can track you online and offline. This incredibly detailed profile is worth real-money and is sold & resold without you knowing.
Most people don’t realize that even when you are sign-out of Facebook and you clear you cookies and cache, they can still track your online movement. Smart marketers, online service providers and other less honorable entities use browser based fingerprinting to track you on the web. In simple terms, they extract as much information as technically possible from your browser (configuration, plug-ins, etc) and then use this as a homing beacon.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a test site (Panopticlick) that shows you how this works and confirms how unique your browser fingerprint is. I ran the test on one of my browsers and was told my browser fingerprint is unique and that my "browser has a fingerprint that conveys at least 21.22 bits of identifying information."
Comparing it to traditional marketing
As consumers, we are now use to being offered “free or subsidized” services in exchange for being bombarded by advertising (think TV, free newspapers, radio, etc). But there is one very important difference; social networks connect to your personal life and therefore have incredibly detailed insight into our likes and dislikes.
Also any data they collect is theirs. You have no say on how it is used and when (if ever) it is destroyed. Can Facebook decide to do less honorable "things" with the data? Of course. Remember that once you sign-up and start using their service, they own any data you generate. They know your circles of friends (frequency of profile visits, pictures you upload and tag, walls on which you comment the most), they know the kinds of comments you share and can build a fairly accurate psych profile about you.
So what should you do?
Many users call Facebook a necessary evil. It allows you to connect with and stay updated with acquaintances you otherwise would lose touch with. Every time you interact with Facebook, be aware that your actions are being tracked, recorded (forever) and analyzed until the cows come home.
Everything you do, stays in the Facebook hive brain forever. I often wonder who else could be leveraging this incredible data. Could foreign government compromise Facebook's security and steal this data? Could certain government agencies work with Facebook to build more accurate personnel profiles?