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May 22, 2010
Facebook's New Privacy Policy: Good or Evil?

This past week, I experienced internally a great schism, one not unlike that of Rome and Constantinople, East and West Berlin and Charlie Sheen and his ex-wives. My mind, it seems, has split into two distinct personalities: the marketer and the consumer.

What has caused this rift, you ask? Well, these two sides have held an uneasy truce ever since I began working in this industry, but the culprit is easy to identify: Facebook.

Go ahead and pull up Google News, then enter “Facebook” into the search box. Your results will invariably pull up two perspectives: outrage over Facebook’s disregard for user privacy and excitement over what Facebook’s new initiatives will offer brands and marketers. Having read ad nauseam of opinions from both camps, I find myself both outraged and excited. I feel like the only recourse I have is to use this column to give voice to each of my personalities and hope that through discourse and discussion they can once again come to uneasy but functional terms.

The consumer: Orwellian! That is the only word that can describe what is going on here. When I joined Facebook several years ago, I joined because it was a way to keep in touch with friends. That’s it. The information I made available on my page was meant for friends and friends only -- I reserved the choice of who was privy to my information. Now, Facebook dictates that I no longer have that right to choose. There is no State of Facebook, and Facebook does not have marshal authority over its user community.

The marketer: Then quit! It’s that simple. If you don’t like it, get out. Yes, if you stay, you will be providing Facebook and certain third parties (i.e. marketers) with specific, benign personal information. In return for that information, Facebook users will experience a higher quality Web experience. Meanwhile, marketers and advertisers will be able to glean insightful information that will allow them to create messaging to resonate better with users. Furthermore, thanks to enhanced targeting made possible by these initiatives, users will not have to sift through ads that do not apply to them. It’s a win-win for both sides.

The consumer: How extremely altruistic of Facebook! The fact remains that we, the user community, did not sign up for Facebook as an advertising platform. I get the “improved user experience” point, but it’s not for me and other like-minded users. All we are asking for is the ability to opt out of participating in these new initiatives.

The marketer: According to the “like-minded users” you mentioned, last week it was Google, not Facebook, that was planning world domination. You and others are not surrendering your passwords, checking accounts, and social security numbers in order to participate in Facebook. Facebook is providing third parties with behavioral data on users. The Web is evolving, and as it does, users will find that giving up this type of information is necessary for participation.

The consumer: Fascist!

The marketer: Hippie!

Well, this was clearly an exercise in futility. I’m not sure I will ever personally approve of Facebook’s privacy policies, but I know they will indeed improve on how I professionally earn a living. I think that on some level all marketers, advertisers and PR flaks struggle with this duality -- it comes with the turf. I know I will remain wary as to what information I share on Facebook, but as a professional, I will definitely take advantage of the information shared by my community peers who use Facebook with less discretion.

How will I find peace? I’ll just up my donation to the ACLU this year.

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Justin Celko is a digital communications professional based in Chicago, IL. Follow him on Twitter.

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