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Comment: Devaluing the price of your soul

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By Kathy Gibson
And finally we all know where we stand – and why technology companies have been so happy to offer users Web 2.0 applications and services for nothing more than just a bit of personal information and the ability to watch what we do online. 

Facebook yesterday unveiled its plan for making mega-bucks out of advertising to its 50-million willing slaves … sorry, users … who have already proved willing to part with personal details and failed to raise an outcry when the media revealed how social networking sites were carefully working up profiles of their users based on their online habits and behaviour.
It seems that Facebook, which is partly owned by Microsoft, wants its users to become viral marketers – to become online salesmen on behalf of its advertisers.
How it works is that advertisers will create their own profiles – exactly like any other users – which will include video, photos, announcements, promotions and plug-in apps.
Users then sign on as fans and interact with the brand as they would with other users. These activities are displayed on the user's profile page and on their friends' news feeds – only they will also include advertisements for the brand in question.
Applications embedded on advertisers' sites could even alert a user's friends every time he buys something from the advertiser.
Facebook is calling these users "trusted referers" but other names include viral marketer or less flattering monickers.
Another new advertising opportunity is for advertisers to target users based on their specific personal information – information which users have to give Facebook in order to get on to the social networking site.
It will be interesting to see if there is a backlash to this flagrant abuse of a trusted relationship with a service provider. There has been very little reaction from users to the warning signs and I wonder if they're going to rise up now or continue as before.
Most likely the latter as they'll still perceive that they're getting a needed social networking fix for nothing – the cost of privacy obvioulsy being negligible.
Even more interesting will be how Microsoft takes the news. The software giant recently called on the online services industry to develop global privacy principles for data collection, use and protection related to search and online advertising.
I quote from a recent press release:
Together with Ask, the company committed to engage in a dialogue with other technology leaders, consumer advocacy organizations and academics to help encourage development of global privacy principles.
In Montreal, on 27 September, industry leaders and consumer advocates convened to discuss privacy issues surrounding search and online advertising at an event sponsored by Privacy International.
“The Montreal meeting brought together many key participants in the online advertising and search markets, who increasingly recognize the importance of privacy in online advertising and search,” said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. “The participants brought different perspectives, which underscores the need for continuing dialogue. This meeting was a good start.”
“It is important that industry come together around a common understanding of a set of best practices,” emphasised Peter Cullen, Microsoft’s chief privacy strategist. “We need to do the right thing for consumers on privacy. The goal is to provide consumers with greater transparency and control.”
In addition to Microsoft and Ask.com, others in the search and online advertising industry, such as AOL, Yahoo! and Google, have addressed related privacy issues in the past few months. The good news is that privacy in online advertising and search is on the agenda. Microsoft and Ask.com are cautiously optimistic that we will continue to progress toward industry principles.
End of quote.
One has got to wonder how yesterday's Facebook announcement gels with these worthy sentiments.