Sunday, December 26, 2010

Spies Like Us

"Spies Like Us" was a dreadful Chevy Chase vehicle that featured, fortunately, Dan Aykroyd, Russians, a mobile missile platform and a rock. Chase and Aykroyd were spies. Terrible spies who, somehow, got the job of being spies and by the end of the movie were deciding world policy without consulting the rules very much.

Facebook is asking you for your profile. They're asking you to spy on yourself, to give up information in return for the arbitrary, negligible goods facebook offers. Do you want the Flair "application?" Notice I put application in quotes, but not Flair. Flair is in widely-recognized use in this context and doesn't really need to be set apart, but application usually refers to a piece of software that is productive in nature - a set of instructions that, once in use, will make your computer do something that you needed to get done. But before you can download the Flair application, you have to give Facebook permission to dig into your profile.

Why would I do that? What good is it? And if I want another application, will I have to permit that application to also dig through my profile? Does it hope to find something different there?

The only possible motive I can see for doing this, searching through my profile, is marketing. Targeted marketing works, so a profile that I write about myself is going to allow them to really home in on my interests, advertise exactly the junk I can be convinced I "need" and sell sell sell until I blow every disposable dime on it. Ain't gonna happen, facebook.

There are many ways to subvert this system, and when it comes to systems I do enjoy being subversive. For starters, they don't check facts much. If you give your description as a 98 year old woman with five asthmatic cats and really go out for naked hang gliding, well, facebook kinda just has to go along with that. They don't have much leverage to check that out. So if you checked all those boxes while you are in fact a 24 year old male couch potato with no pets or physical hobbies, you can cheerfully ignore all the peculiar invitations that facebook sends your way. But they're still going to come.

And now that facebook has a hold of these bits of information about me, I can be rewarded for my candor with a Piece of Flair: a button. Not just any button, an imaginary button! It exists here and nowhere else. But to get it, I've surrendered something very real. Even if the reality contains falsehoods I've bartered away my privacy. Not a lot, but a finite part. It's really been traded and is now an open book for facebook. "I sold my privacy and all I got was this lousy pretend button."

I actually entered a few truths on my profile. I really do dig old tractors, and woodworking. Nothing interesting has crossed my screen yet, but I'm sure it's on its way. It'll be here.

When it does, I may take up hang gliding. Or at least that's what facebook will think.

NOTE: the above is a missive I posted on my facebook page about a year ago - maybe longer, I'm not sure.  My opinion toward facebook hasn't changed significantly since then, and neither has facebook's activity.  If you want to fire up one of their so-called "applications," you still have to permit its data-gathering in your profile.  Granted I've since then discovered how to go into my privacy page and disallow all the peeking at my info, but it can't be stopped as long as you're using the application.  So, I don't use them.

That's it from me this evening.  It was a beautiful Christmas with snow on the ground.  Big dinner with family, romping with dogs, bantering with kids.  For your sake, I hope yours was similar.

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