Facebook may become the next online ‘smoking’ addiction

What if Facebook becomes the new web? This could become a reality for many users worldwide, given their unbelievable growth of 600.000 new users every day. Facebook already has 140Mln registered users. If they continue to grow at this rate they could easily get 50% of all the Internet users worldwide to the Facebook platform within a few years.

Smoking is dangerous for your health

Smoking is dangerous for your health

I find that to be a scary thought. Not just because it’s never good for a user if there is only one choice. It scares me that Facebook has access to incredible amounts of private information and that most users do not seem to realize or care about that. Facebook quickly tries to monopolize our on-line relations and interactions. Which would be ok if their business model was to provide users with value. But it isn’t. Their business model is based upon advertisement. Basically it means that Facebook will exploit everything they know about you, about your friends, and the interactions you have with them in a commercial model.

If all of your interactions are happening thought Facebook, imagine what they know about you. Demographics, political views, sexual behavior, who are your friends (including people you don’t really know that might have some seriously demented behavior online), your online (sometimes private) interactions, photo’s of you and your friends (tagged), business connections, movie and game taste, e-mail, search. The list is endless.

This scenario could easily turn into an Orwellian nightmare. I don;t think any company should have access to such large amounts of information. The Facebook business model, Free Advertisement based, might turn into a smoking addiction. We end up realizing it is bad for us, but by that time we are so addicted to it that it will be hard to quit. If all your data, your interactions are taking place in this one platform, if this one platform becomes your web reality, how easy would it be to leave it behind and start again?

We are all used to e-commerce sites providing us with ‘social’  feedback to help us improve our shopping experience. Amazon set a standard when they introduced the “users that bought this book, also bought…” trick. It is an excellent way to boost sales, mainly because it adds value to the users shopping experience. But turn the experience around for a second. Would you still find it OK if Facebook reported to ALL of your friends that you have just bought the “Complete Illustrated Kamasutra” edition on Amazon (formally known as project Beacon in Facebook)? And because you bought that book, you, your family and your friends may en up getting all kinds of “Kamasutra-like” advertisement. Right next to the lovely baby pictures you posted when your child was born. All of a sudden, the information that was private to you (your shopping behavior) becomes a privacy nightmare in your Facebook experience.

I feel that mainstream users need to be educated about this. A free advertisement based social networking business model could lead to commercial exploitation of you, your family, your friends, your data, and your interactions. Users should be aware of this and take a conscious decision on whether or not they mind or not. I doubt there is any thought about this when a user signs up. And that could lead to unexpected and potentially harmful situations.

Facebook may become a next ‘smoking’ addiction. It’s really cool when you sign up, but once you realise the potential harm, it is nearly impossible to quit.

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9 Responses to Facebook may become the next online ‘smoking’ addiction

  1. Lola says:

    I have felt this way about Facebook from its first appearance on the web and am surprised that more savvy internet users aren’t on to this.
    The lure of Facebook is vanity; the desire to be perceived as important, socially connected, powerful, influential, friendly, fun and liked.
    The fine print on the Facebook agreement also states that the information you post there, stays there. Aside from becoming addicted, it’s nearly impossible to have your information removed from Facebook’s sticky flypaper, should you one day decide to do so.
    I have never joined and don’t intend to, but realize I may be in a minority here.

  2. gregorylent says:

    no problem …. karma needs vehicles for its actions

  3. I was searching for “smoking addiction” and somehow ended up on your Facebook post. Must be fate ;) You raised many interesting points about Facebook. It’s something that I have been thinking about especially after the release of Facebook Connect.

    While every webmaster or webdeveloper sees it as a godsend because FB Connect opens up the potential for a lot of traffic, I’m more concerned about users who think it’s convenient to login using Facebook credentials.

    Like you mentioned, it’s giving too much power to only one social network. Using Facebook Connect only feeds your data back to Facebook. There is also the issue with data portability, which I think about everyday when I use Facebook. If it’s a piece of information that I’ll need, I make sure I make a copy of it elsewhere.

    For example – I use Friendfeed as well, and have enabled my Facebook posted items to show up there. That way, I’m not dependent on one network. I also upload photos onto Multiply as backup.

    It’s frustrating when some people avoid Facebook altogether though. Facebook does add value in that you can find out what your friends are up to easily. I guess we all need to balance out what we want out of the network, and make sure we’re getting more out of it, than they are exploiting.

  4. @Lola, if you do join just be aware of the consequences ;-)

    @Cynthia, I do agree Facebook adds value (otherwise they wouldn’t grow so fast and have 100+mln users). It is not the value I am concerned about. It is their business model that forces them to use your personal data to make a (n advertisement) living.

  5. Hi Alexander,

    Facebook is brilliant. If used smartly it is a great online-reputation management tool, as well as a great tool for networking— both socially and for business.

    As for data-portability, sure we need some standards, but any photos I upload are also on my own computer (and maybe my iPhone, and maybe flickr or one of my own servers as well). Any of my business connections are also on LinkedIN (and likely Plaxo). Really important connections including business and friends and family are programmed into my iPhone, and synced to my computer’s address book (and most are in a drawer in my old Palm TX). All my books… they’re better cataloged on LibraryThing than on Facebook, anyway (not to mention sitting on the shelf).

    I’m actually quite disappointed that, with all Facebook knows about me, they’ve generally done a piss-poor job of targeting me for advertisements. It leads me to believe that they’ve got a ways to go before they catch up with the prescience of Amazon recommendations, and are a long way from being feared. I wish they’d get it together already and start connecting the dots.

    At least they adding a Digg style vote up/down on the advertisements. I’ve been pretty-well proactive in voting my preferences. Now they mostly serve me ads for Art shows, Galleries and Architect firms.

    If that’s dystopian, then it’s a bit of a letdown. I was expecting something more Terminator™ like.

    Sure, beacon was a big flop, and they seemed to have learned from it.

    Here’s the thing– People don’t mind marketing/advertising if it is well targeted. If you know enough about what people like, and you craft good algorithms, you’re going to give people what they want. People only hate advertising when it’s for things they don’t want. The “people who bought this, also bought that…” feature on Amazon, and copied on the likes of iTunes and eMusic, among others, have added tremendous quality to my life. I find music more to my liking, and get excellent book recommendations.

    I’m also not too worried about Facebook taking over the world. Right now, thanks to a bad economy, I’ve read that LinkedIN is currently the fastest growing network site. A couple of years ago SecondLife was the hot thing. Now they’re yesterday’s news, even though they have a larger active user base than ever. And Friendster? MySpace ate their lunch, until Facebook came along. I was a beta member of SixDegrees, remember that one? Someone will up-the-ante, and that person will be richer still.

    Facebook has the winning formula right now. I’m enjoying it. I have reconnected with really good people from my past that I’d lost touch with, and I have met some interesting, intelligent, creative people that I would not know otherwise. Just be aware of your behavior. Be a conscientious person, as you should be in life anyway.

  6. Hi Chris,

    thanks for the response. Glad to hear that you like Facebook. I don’t think I agree with your following statement though:
    “Here’s the thing– People don’t mind marketing/advertising if it is well targeted. If you know enough about what people like, and you craft good algorithms, you’re going to give people what they want. People only hate advertising when it’s for things they don’t want.”

    I personally believe that is only true in a shopping or searching context. When I am having a good time with my friends this statement doesn’t hold.

    Just imagine you having drinks with a few good friends at your house, and the landlord keeps knocking on the door with the message “30% discount on loans”. And the only reason he is coming by is because (as a landlord) he is overhearing your conversation at home with your friends about buying new cars or homes. Fiction? Hmm, that is what Facebook does online isn’t it? I find that such “algorithms” are crossing a thin line of privacy there.

  7. Jason Smith says:

    Could we see a backlash in the form of a paid social media site that is completely private and secure?

    Or the formation of non-profit websites to further assure users that the information they are sharing with their friends is not ever going to be used for profit?

  8. Wendy Peters says:

    Hi Alexander. You raise a valid point and I agree not many think much about it when they sign up. But I think it’s unrealistic to view Facebook as a closed network where you can be free and comfortable to do and share things with your friends that you would inside your own home. It’s a public forum and any actions should be taken as for public consumption. Again, why the points your bring up are all too valid and definitely do need to be talked about more.

  9. :D Boredom is the true enemy!

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