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  Kevin Curtin      2011-10-19 14:12:08      1,408    0

More and more I see articles popping up that bash social networks for "violating" our privacy and selling our information to advertisers. Inevitably, Facebook has been at the center of many of these "scandals". Today on HN I came across this interviewwith Disconnect co-founder Casey Oppenheim and I just don't get it.

In it, he bashes Facebook (and other online advertisers) for using our information in order to serve up targeted ads. He points out that many of the " “free” services aren’t really free — we pay with our data". At one point he even says that "Facebook’s primary objective is to maximize value for shareholders — not its users. More tracking = more targeted ads = more $."

While it is true that "we pay with our data" for many of the free (as in no monetary cost) social networks we use, what is the alternative? People don't want to pay money for these types of services and this is a business model that allows companies to operate and thrive while providing a valuable service to their users. I don't understand this pervasive notion that using our information in order to serve targeted ads is inherently bad. That somehow this type of business model is threatening, evil and has far reaching negative consequences outside of our experience within the given application. In fact, I can't give you a single concrete example of how a social network using my information to serve an ad on their site has negatively impacted me. These sites take the information we have submitted to be viewable by "Friends" and use computer generated scripts to determine what pops up in the adbar on the right side of my screen. The information isn't viewed by humans (not in an identifiable way) and it's not published along with our names in some public database that everyone can search. So what's the big deal?

I understand the instinctive philosphic reaction that "we own our data" but when I dig beaneath that initlal gut response I come up empty. I do think there is an important distinction between privacy and security that sometimes people miss. There is certain information (address, account numbers, ss #, etc.) that if obtained by a third party, could result in some real world problems that will negatively impact my life. But information social networks sell to advertisers doesn't fall into this category.

Until I hear arguments beyond "it is wrong" or "I own my data" I'm not convinced that this is a problem that needs to be fixed. Someone please convince me because I feel like I am in the minority on this one.

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